While shopping for new office space for the growing Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), the organization encountered blatant racism and homophobia from landlords.
Inside the bright and sunny new office space, executive director Shannon Thomas Ryan spoke candidly about the discrimination he experienced from several landlords around the city.
“Lots of landlords didn’t want us,” he said. “We looked at about 15 spaces, and they all came back with excuses.”
Some landlords didn’t even try to hide their bigotry, he said.
“They exposed themselves so much, we could have sought legal action,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he “came inches” from filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights tribunal. Ultimately, Black CAP settled on a place with a welcoming landlord at 20 Victoria St.
“I was shocked when he said yes,” Ryan said. “[The search for a new office exposed] some of the most direct racism and homophobia I have ever experienced. It’s a good wake-up call.
“If we experienced this, what do our clients experience on a daily basis?”
Back in the early ’90s, when the organization was originally looking for a home, the same hatred was felt, he said.
“Toronto is now known for its diversity, but that’s not transferring on the ground,” he said. “It was very upsetting.”
Founded in 1989, Black CAP, which handles a caseload of about 1,000 clients, provides a number of programs, services, prevention education and outreach support to black queer and straight people in the city at risk of acquiring HIV.
After outgrowing its 3,000 square foot space at 10 Spadina Ave, Black CAP officially took ownership of its new digs on Sept 1.
The move ballooned its office space to 6,500 square feet, which includes a large boardroom, a drop-in centre, counselling rooms and a reception area.
A capital fundraising campaign that began in August has helped raise $200,000 toward the construction and design budget of $275,000, Ryan said.
Black CAP’s annual general meeting on Oct 28 at 6pm will also serve as an open house and ribbon cutting for the new office. At the meeting, noted Canadian author and Giller Prize winner Austin Clarke will do a reading prepared specifically for the event.
For more information, visit the website at black-cap.com.