10 min

Capital Pride’s inclusivity questioned

Community members consider alternatives to mainstream Pride

I’m not going to that white boys’ party.

I was taken aback when a close friend referred to Pride that way. He was more amused than offended that I thought he’d be interested in watching the parade. He was referring to Toronto’s Pride, but he’d formerly lived in Ottawa and regardless of the city, Pride celebrations do not resonate with him. The naked men made him laugh the loudest.

“It’s hard enough being a gay, black man,” he told me. “There’s no way I’d strut down the street in a Speedo or naked.”

Being naked or even scantily clad is entirely optional, but the idea that Pride has become more of a celebration for the more privileged members of the LGBT community is an issue that’s being discussed both locally and in connection with Pride movements across the western world. In Ottawa, issues of inclusivity and diversity have been raised around the new Capital Pride ever since the public consultation back in January. In the wake of the former Capital Pride’s bankruptcy, Tammy Dopson, a local queer realtor, set up a new Pride organization in partnership with the Bank Street Business Improvement Area (BIA).

For some, the reassurance that Ottawa will have a 30th anniversary Pride celebration is the most important thing. Starting a new organization from the ground up — and planning a festival — in a matter of months is a tall order. Several community members have expressed the view that they’ll see how the festival goes and reassess in the fall. However, this “wait-and-see” attitude isn’t shared by everyone.

“I’m tired of waiting,” says Vincent Mousseau, a political science student who has lived in the Ottawa-Gatineau area for about eight years. “I’m tired of waiting to see myself in the festival. I’m tired of waiting to see trans folks represented properly at the festival.”

(Vincent Mousseau/Photo: Facebook)

As a person of colour, Mousseau says he didn’t feel represented by the former Capital Pride and isn’t encouraged by the newest incarnation.

Feeling unrepresented and unwelcome by Pride is what motivated Jasper Drury to start the Anti-Capitalist Pride group in late April.

“I just wanted something that I would be able to participate in and feel included,” says Drury, who is trans. “It feels like the community, so to speak, that has taken charge of Pride, is not much more inclusive than the rest of the mainstream cis, hetero society. At this point honestly it doesn’t really surprise me any more because it’s something that I’m very used to.”

Dopson maintains that Capital Pride’s community advisory committee (CAC) is diverse. The committee includes two men of colour, two trans women, Francophones and a youth member who turns 25 at the end of June. But for Drury and Mousseau, an organization’s diversity isn’t automatically achieved by having members who aren’t white and cis.

(Jasper Drury/Photo: Facebook)

“There’s a clear distinction for me in terms of actually reaching out to so-called cultural communities and saying ‘we want to work with you,’ [rather] than finding people who already think like you and using them as, ‘see we are diverse because we have these people on our board,’” Mousseau says.

While Dopson says she “cast a wide net” when setting up the CAC, Brodie Fraser, who spoke on Dopson’s behalf at the community consultation in January, acknowledged that with a tight timeline, they were seeking the “diplomats” rather than the “warriors” of the community.

Bia Salles, a queer woman from Brazil, was among the community consultation attendees who expressed concern that the CAC wasn’t accepting new members. Diego Sarmales pointed out the CAC’s membership was closed even before many community members knew of its existence.

In March, Capital Pride posted job descriptions for people who wanted to volunteer or work on the festival. In her recent Daily Xtra editorial, Salles says the police background check requirement was a barrier, particularly for trans people, people of colour, sex-trade workers and anyone with a past interaction with police.

Having the entire team being cleared to interact with children and other vulnerable community members reduces the logistical issues of running a festival, Dopson says. Additionally, if anyone with a criminal record had approached Capital Pride, the organization would have dealt with it on a case by case basis, she says.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it was never meant to exclude anyone,” Dopson says. “To ask for that security check, we were doing our due diligence with hiring our staff . . . I think that everyone can understand, especially with respect to last year, that maybe that was something that needed to be observed.”

Bringing back several board members from the former Capital Pride organization to serve on the new operations committee also raised some eyebrows. Alan Chaffe, who was chair of Capital Pride in 2009, tweeted on April 22: “I would have thought bankrupting an org. would have meant removal from that org. 4 a min amt of time..apparently not w/ @CapPride2015.” On May 2, he tweeted that he’d been blocked and recently confirmed with Daily Xtra that Capital Pride has blocked him on Facebook and Twitter.

“At the heart of a successful queer community organization is open and transparent dialogue with the queer community,” says Chaffe, a PhD student who has studied the Pride movement. “The queer community not only wants to be heard and to participate in processes that affect their community and their festival, but they also have the right to do so.”

Dopson says Capital Pride blocked Chaffe and “very, very few [other] people” due to posts that went against the organization’s social media policy.

“Part of our social media policy — and it’s posted on our Facebook page — refers to the fact that if we deem comments offensive or slanderous in nature or libelous then they will be removed,” she says.

In terms of having former Capital Pride board members on the new Capital Pride’s operations team, Dopson says an open competition and a three-person interview panel selected the best candidates, adding it’s helpful to have experienced people among the new hires. Between the governance of the CAC and the financial oversight of the BIA, the festival is in good hands, says Dopson, who stands by the organization’s operations team.

“Nobody was ever charged [in connection to] the bankruptcy, nor was it ever clear on where the monies went missing . . . I don’t see how we could hold them accountable for that,” she says.

For Salles, the familiar faces from the previous Capital Pride organization, coupled with a lack of opportunity to join the CAC and what she, Mousseau and Chaffe see as a lack of open dialogue with the community make her doubtful the organization is invested in changing the power structure all three say exists in both Ottawa and in Pride movements generally.

“All they have shown so far is that they’re interested in having a party and interested in having a festival,” Salles says. “They’re not really interested in talking about [intersectionality] . . . It takes a lot of self-analyzing and soul-searching for people to recognize their own privileges and start giving priority to other intersections.”

Dillon Black, a social worker with the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, says diversity and inclusion go hand in hand with an open, transparent process. Black, who is gender non-binary and uses the pronoun they, says they were initially approached by the CAC to join, but had misgivings.

(Dillon Black/Photo: Adrienne Ascah)

“It didn’t look like it was a meaningful way to involve people and engage them,” Black says. “It wasn’t an open process. It was very closed, behind doors, so that kind of raised a couple of alarms around what engagement really looks like and what diversity actually looks like.”

Black was also concerned about being considered as a youth member for the CAC. Although they work with youth as a project co-ordinator, Black says being 28 years old with a university education and a full-time job means they have a lot of privilege. Instead of speaking on youth’s behalf, a more meaningful way to represent youth would be to reach out to them directly, Black says.

Acknowledging privilege is important and it’s something Pride movements don’t do well, Mousseau says. People of colour, trans people and other marginalized groups within the LGBT community don’t have the same privileges as cisgender, white people and any Pride celebration won’t be meaningful until that’s acknowledged, he says.

“There are still a lot of inroads that white, gay people need to make in order to actually be able to move towards actually having a Pride that is intersectional,” Mousseau says. “As long as those attitudes still exist, I don’t see Pride as an organization that will be able to elicit true intersectionality.”

Economic privilege — or the lack of it — is another issue that makes Pride inaccessible to some community members, Drury says. In theory, everyone’s welcome to attend Pride events, but not all the events are free. In the past, Drury says they couldn’t afford to go and didn’t see themselves represented in the programming.

“I’ve been on and off homeless for the past three years and currently I’ve been homeless for two months,” Drury says. “A lot of the events, you have to pay in order to get in and as well I’ve found that there . . . [weren’t many] trans Pride events, which did not really include me.”

People might discuss the impact of homelessness, poverty and mental health issues on the LGBT community in a general way, but Pride festivals seem to leave those issues at the door, Drury says. The dates for Anti-Capitalist Pride haven’t been set yet, but events will be free. Drury hopes to offer a trans feminine spectrum discussion panel and a workshop about navigating social services while trans.

“A lot of social workers who I’ve interacted with . . . I end up having to educate them about the different trans 101 things,” Drury says. “We’re hoping [to hold] workshops on helping people navigate being institutionalized while being trans. We’re hoping to get someone who has been incarcerated while openly trans and maybe someone who has been in a psych ward or a mental hospital or something like that and then maybe someone who’s been in a retirement home.”

Luke Smith, a former Capital Pride board member, says he applauds Anti-Capitalist Pride for creating space for people who feel left behind by mainstream Pride. The group’s existence and efforts challenge all of us to consider what we really want out of a Pride festival, he says.

(Luke Smith/Photo: Capital Pride)

“I’m personally thrilled that Anti-Capitalist Pride is taking on a leadership role and kind of engaging with these very difficult conversations,” Smith says. “I think it’s important that the community is involved in having these conversations and kind of holding itself to a higher standard.”

Dopson says she also supports Anti-Capitalist Pride’s right to put on its own events.

“It’s unfortunate they feel excluded,” she says. “I think it’s important, though, that they feel free to make their statement in whatever form they want. We actually encourage them to express themselves. It would be great if they could have dialogue with us. I think my biggest concern is they feel excluded but they’ve never actually talked to us.”

Dopson reiterates that anyone who has concerns or questions about Pride should contact her directly and she will sit down with them. Some community members would prefer those conversations took place in public. Doug Saunders-Riggins posted his disapproval on Facebook when he was told the public wasn’t allowed to attend Capital Pride’s June 4 press conference at Ottawa City Hall.

From Dopson’s perspective, press conferences are for the press and she says she isn’t sure why members of the public think they should be able to attend.

“We’re being held to a different standard,” she says. “It’s not entirely fair if you think about it. [The former Capital Pride] never had public consultations throughout the organization of the [festival] . . . Last year they didn’t do nearly as many press conferences and press releases as we’re doing. Even on their Facebook page they didn’t post what we’re posting.”

Dopson says Capital Pride is busy planning a festival, which is going “full steam ahead,” despite the festival producer’s recent resignation. After the festival, though, community members will have an opportunity to provide feedback, she says.

(Tammy Dopson/Photo: Adrienne Ascah)

“We have said at the end of this year we’ll do a retrospective and there will be community input,” Dopson says. “What we will not allow is the spectacle of the [former Capital Pride’s] last AGMs . . . I understand people were upset, but the delivery of that information and the way it was handled was not acceptable. I believe that that’s not something that should happen to volunteers and I don’t see that happening in other organizations.”

While Capital Pride plans its festival, Anti-Capitalist Pride continues to plan its own events. For Drury, Anti-Capitalist Pride is about amplifying voices that haven’t been heard. Anti-Capitalist Pride’s events will run during the Capital Pride festival as an alternative, but the group also plans to have a protest march at the end of the festival, as a nod to Stonewall and the liberation marches that have been replaced by corporatized Pride parties with white, cis faces at the helm, they say.

“I really want to include people who are otherwise not included, but I also want to make sure people realize that having strong emotions about being left out, that those feelings are heard and they’re valid,” Drury says. “Being left out is not OK and we want to make sure that those people are included and our voices are heard and a lot of those voices happen to be in protest.”