Pride Toronto had a rough year behind the scenes in 2008. As fall turned to winter the organization faced challenges of high staff turnover and the implication that no one in Canada’s gay and lesbian communities is willing and equipped to act as Pride’s executive director.
A few days after new ED Tracey Sandilands arrived all the way from South Africa she spoke with Xtra reporter Krishna Rau.
I was, after reading the story, encouraged by Sandliands’ comments. She acknowledged that Pride has some problems to solve. She seemed ready for frank and open dialogue about them. She was clear that she wanted to effect positive change. She seemed to exhibit some good leadership qualities.
But after the piece was published Sandilands posted a comment on Xtra.ca saying she was misquoted. Rau has a recording of his face-to-face conversation with her. Every word quoted in the story is precisely as Sandilands said it. Rau called her to set the record straight. When reminded of the recording, Sandilands admitted that she was not misquoted after all. Her comment on Xtra.ca is simply false.
“I’ve cleared this with the board, we’ll be giving no more interviews to Xtra from here on,” she went on to say in the subsequent recorded conversation with Rau.
When Pride’s public relations consultant Grant Ramsay later invited me to lunch with Sandilands I eagerly accepted. I hoped that Sandilands, like any good leader, had wisely come to recognize her miscalculation and changed her mind. I looked forward to explaining ways our coverage could add stability and transparency to Pride Toronto, a critically important community organization.
But before my ass even hit the seat at that otherwise pleasant lunch meeting, Sandilands told me she did not tell Rau that Pride would not speak to Xtra and that Pride’s board of directors never cleared such a move.
When I told her I’d already heard the recording of her saying the exact opposite, she said she told Rau only that she wouldn’t talk to him personally.
These are two more statements from Sandilands that simply prove to be false.
I still felt compelled to give Pride every opportunity to set things right. Xtra had to publish a story explaining that Pride officials would, after all, speak to Xtra reporters. We also had to corroborate Sandilands’ assertion that Pride never cleared her no-talking-to-Xtra rule. It’s journalism 101.
So Rau went to a Jan 29 Pride Toronto general meeting. He was told that Pride would speak to Xtra but then board and staff scattered, depriving him of the chance to ask further questions.
Rau went to Pride’s office so Sandilands could clear the record. That’s when she told him that she would only speak to Xtra with Ramsay present. Sandilands and Pride’s board were saying one thing — that they would talk to Xtra — but doing something different — ducking our questions.
So we have a Pride ED, fresh from the other side of the planet, who has demonstrated no compunction about telling lies to cover her ass. She’s not comfortable talking to the gay press. There is not one single staff member of Pride Toronto who was on staff during last year’s celebration. And corporate sponsorship commitments are among the first casualties of the economic crisis; Pride will have a very difficult time earning the same sponsorship dollars it did last year.
Gay and lesbian people need to continue to support Pride but to do that they need to know that Pride Toronto is not staffed, led, financed or equipped to pull off a celebration on the same scale as the one that unfolded in 2008.
Matt Mills is Xtra’s associate publisher and editorial director.