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Community groups angry with Pride

Complain they were shunted off to the side

Some community groups angry with the way they were treated by Pride Toronto are asking for their fees to be refunded.

Several groups who paid for booths on the Saturday and Sunday of Pride Week say they were placed in out-of-the-way locations where nobody saw them.

“On Saturday we got placed in a park I had never been in before,” says Jennifer Fodden, the executive director of the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line. “We had three visitors to our table the entire day. It was a lost opportunity for outreach.”

With Pride using the James Canning, George Hislop and Norman Jewison parks just off Yonge St for the first time, a number of groups found themselves placed in those parks or even in the Gloucester Lane alley off the Jewison park.

“Basically the community fair was in an alleyway,” says Janet Romero of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. “There wasn’t much traffic. In previous years we’ve been directly on Wellesley, so we’ve had a lot more traffic. There was no indication it would be any different this year. If we had known we wouldn’t have done it.”

Fodden says the Youth Line table was moved to Church St on Sunday after complaining. The bookstore abandoned its table in Gloucester Lane on Saturday afternoon, and concentrated solely on the table it had set up next to the Proud Voices reading stage.

Romero says the bookstore plans to ask Pride for a complete refund for its table, a total of $300. Fodden says she has asked for a refund for the Saturday.

Fatima Amarshi, the executive director of Pride, admits that this year’s placing of community groups may not have worked out.

“Not everything worked perfectly,” she says. “Not everybody liked the new park system. It didn’t work out as well as we hoped. Gloucester Lane in particular didn’t work. The park system was a great addition but we might have to look at whether to place booths there.”

Amarshi says the groups in Gloucester Lane were relocated by Sunday. She says Pride does not normally refund fees.

“It depends on a case-by-case basis,” she says. “We don’t normally work with refunds, but we’ll look at specific complaints.”

Susan Gapka, who staffed a table for the Rainbow Health Network, says the group will consider asking for a refund of the $236 it paid for a table on the Sunday.

“All of our group members had trouble finding the location in Norman Jewison park,” she says. “There was no signage. Only half our volunteers could find the space. It all worked out, but it caused some undue stress.”

Gapka says there was very little traffic at the table, but that she actually liked the location.

“I have mixed feelings,” she says. “It was a nice environment. I preferred it to sitting on hot pavement. But it wasn’t expected and it came as a surprise.”

Gapka says traffic past the table was slow.

“It was 10 to 20 percent of the traffic that usually travels along Church and Wellesley,” she says. “We missed that. We brought a lot of our literature back with us and we didn’t get as many petitions signed. I thought this was a good way to get people interested. If that was our primary aim, we didn’t succeed to the extent that we had hoped.”

Romero says the bookstore normally sells about $500 worth of books at Pride. This year she says the figure was about the same, but was almost solely due to the table by the Proud Voices stage.

“The sales were about the same but that was because we had books by the readers at the stage,” she says. “All the other stuff we bought for the other table, we sold very little.”

But Romero says the bookstore’s prime concern is not lost revenue, but lost opportunities for passersby to learn about the store.

“We do it more for the visibility,” she says. “It’s about creating community.”

Fodden agrees the Youth Line’s location made Saturday a useless day.

“Fatima had specifically thought it would be of benefit to be near the trans stage,” she says, “but it was so quiet as to not be worth our while. We do a lot of good outreach at Pride so it was a shame.”