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Community questions new Ottawa Pride 2015 proposal

Attendees told community advisory committee closed to new members

LGBT community members raised concerns about transparency and diversity in a new proposal for Ottawa Pride 2015 at a Jan 20 meeting.  Credit: Ben Welland

Community members called for more diversity and transparency at a Jan 20 public meeting to discuss the future of Pride in Ottawa.

While many community members expressed gratitude that the Bank Street Business Improvement Area (BIA) is willing to assume responsibility for financial expenditures and provide infrastructure for 2015’s Pride festival, some also raised concerns.

The Jan 15 press conference at which Christine Leadman, executive director of the BIA, and community-group spokesperson Tammy Dopson announced their proposal for Pride 2015 came as a surprise to many members of Ottawa’s queer community. Many people expressed disappointment that the announcement was made in the media instead of being presented to the community members who had agreed to meet on Jan 20 to discuss the future of Pride in the wake of its bankruptcy.

“From what I understood, tonight we were supposed to create a new group, but the group was already created,” Diego Sarmales told Xtra. “At the end, it was talking, talking, talking, but about what we could do for this group.” People want to see a fresh start, but instead of diversity and transparency, it looks like a repetition of old patterns, where an inner circle has power and others are left out in the cold, he said.

During the meeting, which was attended by approximately 50 people, community member Bia Salles raised similar concerns.

“My fear is that you guys are going through the same steps as the [former Capital Pride] committee, where there’s a small group of people who are going to create the governance,” said Salles, who has volunteered with Capital Pride and the Dyke March. “Now is the time to invite the people who are minorities, who want to be part of the process of not volunteering for Pride, but building Pride.”

During the meeting, attendees were told that the community advisory committee that is partnered with the BIA is currently closed to new members. This didn’t sit well with community members who said everyone should be allowed to play a role in building the new Pride organization.

“I know they’re great people,” Salles said of the community advisory committee members. “I just feel that I do identify as a person of colour; I do identify as an immigrant. I don’t see myself represented on the committee right now.”

Dopson wasn’t able to attend the meeting, but Brodie Fraser spoke on behalf of the community advisory committee.

“I think that our efforts have been ongoing to ensure that every segment of the community is heard and included,” Fraser told Xtra when asked about the lack of people of colour and youth on the committee. “I would hope after tonight many of the gaps that were there are filled. I’ve had several people come up to me, including a youth representative, Lyra Evans, who volunteered for the community advisory committee. Through this process we want to be able to have every voice that we can represented.”

While Fraser says the committee wants to hear everyone’s concerns, he says there’s a good synergy among the current committee members, who were chosen strategically. Some of the community advisory committee members attended, including Jay Koornstra; Sarah Evans; Lori Peever; William Staubi; George Hartsgrove, from the Ottawa Senior Pride Network; longtime community volunteer Doug Saunders; Kevin Martin, with Glowfair Festival and the BIA; and Christine Schulz, from the Ottawa Police Service. Others, like trans activist Amanda Ryan, were not able to attend.

“It started with Tammy Dopson and I reaching out to carefully selected members of the community,” Fraser says. “These people were selected for their skill sets. Also, we didn’t necessarily approach the heads of organizations. We didn’t necessarily approach the warriors in the organizations because we felt that we needed a forum for discussion with the diplomats of the organizations, and that’s how the community advisory committee was formed.”

When asked about Salles’s point — that she wants to help to build the new Pride organization, not simply volunteer once others have built it — Fraser says this is a “critical juncture” in terms of being able to acquire funding for a 2015 festival.

“In terms of people joining the committee, we aren’t looking for the warriors still at this point,” he says. “What we want, ultimately, is a festival operations committee that is representative of the community as much as possible, and much of the work that the community advisory committee will do from now until the [festival operations] committee is formed is reaching out as broadly as possibly to ensure the voices that felt they weren’t heard tonight are going to be heard.”

Not being a member of the community advisory committee won’t hurt a person’s chances of being on the festival operations committee, Fraser says.

During the meeting, Peter Zanette, who served as treasurer for the purpose of filing bankruptcy papers on Jan 7, raised the issue of Capital Pride property, including the Pride flag, being left in a storage locker. Until the company is paid approximately $800, it won’t release the items, he said. Angus MacIsaac, from UsedOttawa.com, said he would try to get the items out of storage, which earned him a round of applause.

Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing, which is to see a successful Pride festival in 2015, and with the BIA’s support, things are looking good, Fraser says.

“We’ve managed to pull an incredible amount of support together in quite a short period of time,” Fraser says. “The vision I have for Pride and the vision that I’ve held for all my years volunteering for the [Capital Pride] board in 2009, 2010, 2013, and then working for them in 2014 was that Pride doesn’t seek to represent you. It seeks to facilitate a space for you to represent yourself.”

Fraser encourages community members who want more information or want to share their ideas or concerns to read the Community Proposal for Pride 2015 backgrounder, which includes Dopson’s contact information.