After only five weeks as acting-chair for the board of trustees for Ottawa’s community centre project, Jessica Freedman has stepped down from the position.
Freedman acknowledges blowback she received from comments made to Capital Xtra in late January comparing the oppression of gays, lesbians and trans persons and claiming that gays and lesbians are already “well-served.”
“In recent weeks there has been concern in some parts of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two spirit and queer community centring on an article and an editorial in the previous issue and a column in the current Capital Xtra — Ottawa’s gay and lesbian newspaper,” said Freedman in a statement she read to the Feb 22 meeting of the community centre board of directors. “It is clear I cannot serve the Community Centre as chair of its board of trustees. Accordingly, when the new trustees are elected, I will not seek re-election as chair or to the executive.”
Peter Zanette, who with Catherine Boyd is one of two remaining executives, is supportive of Freedman’s decision.
“[Jessica] was a bit burned out and I felt sorry for her because I couldn’t do anything to remedy how the paper reports things. That’s their slant, that’s what their take is,” says Zanette.
However, the delicate wording of Freedman’s comments then and since show she has not walked away from the board. In resigning as chair she has not resigned from the board, confirmed Zanette, and she has since hinted she will seek re-election this spring to a non-executive seat.
“I retain my seat on the board of trustees — the designated trans seat — and I assure you my voice will still be heard as long as the Community Centre retains any purpose at all. Nevertheless I remain convinced that contributions to the wellbeing and recognition of trans people remain the contributions to a ghetto and are not considered equal with contributions to the gay and lesbian community,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Egale Canada listserv obtained by Capital Xtra.
Lyle Borden sees a conflict with Freedman’s perspective and the role of the community centre. Borden was one of the driving forces behind the project’s current incarnation. He keeps up-to-date on the work done by the board, even though he resigned from it in January due to health problems.
“You don’t discard certain segments of the community because they’ve come on board with rights earlier. It’s important to address the entire community and take advantage of the time and experience of these groups, and how they can lend their support to the community,” says Borden.
“Good intentions and a personal agenda don’t necessarily fit into the expectation for the community centre.”
James Bromilow, Freedman’s predecessor as chair, felt that her statements in February were well intentioned.
“To be honest I think Jessica’s intentions were probably at best misunderstood. Jessica’s been really dedicated to ensuring that the people in our community [are represented], not just trans or bi people, but the impoverished, or students, or the ill, the disabled. When she speaks of underserved members, she’s talking about all the people that tend to fall through the cracks,” says Bromilow.
“What I think she means is to ensure the whole community is served,” he adds.
Borden says the next step the board should take is to ensure that there is a full slate of members in order to pursue its initiatives.
“I think they [members of the board] have to step back and get themselves in gear. The main thing now is to obtain full compliment of board members,” he says. “The individual at the helm — the person who chairs the committee — must be in sync with the direction of the community centre. [The direction is] laid out in the by-laws, in the board’s mandates, and mission statements; people who come on to the board should have good intentions and a clear direction as a unified group.”
Borden’s comments were echoed by Gareth Parks, one of the board’s few remaining professionals.
“For myself, I believe that the current board does not have the skills to pull this enterprise off. I include myself in that. Either we get some high-rollers in here or we throw in our hand. I will not be planning to stay on the board past this spring,” Parks told the meeting according to the Mar 22 minutes.
The opinion pieces referred to by Freedman challenged her statements regarding how the centre would serve the community, and in particular, how she feels gay and lesbian populations are already well served, and that the centre should place more emphasis on bisexual and trans issues.
“The substantive notion of equality is providing those who are marginal with the tools to access equality. And the recognition that marginality is relative, not absolute,” wrote Freedman in her discussion on the Egale listserv.
Since Freedman’s resignation, the board has been examining a new direction for the community centre that would involve combining the services of Pink Triangle Services (PTS) with planning for a community centre, according to Zanette.
“We are in initial negotiations with Pink Triangle Services to include a vision of the community centre as part of their mandate and goals,” says Zanette. “We could look at conserving the services PTS has to offer, and also planning in the future for a sustainable location that is not subject to the whims of landlords and market availability. That’s the direction we’re looking at.”
At an August 2005 community meeting, a consensus emerged to remove the community centre from the control of PTS, where it had largely languished.