Ottawa
3 min

Dear mayor & council

Your Worship, we have a crisis in Ottawa’s gay and lesbian, bisexual and trans communities and, frankly, it’s your problem as well. You see, our local Pride committee has a deficit of $120,000 that’s grown over the last few years and is endangering the future health of the organization, and therefore, the big parade and festival they put on for the local queer community. Some city staff don’t even want to deal with the Pride folks any longer because of the debt.

Now, Your Worship, I’ll grant you that $120,000 is a lot of red ink for a local Pride group – and you’ve got to watch the public purse. And I must confess that the deficit is so large partly due to bad fundraising decisions and less than competent spending decisions in recent years. Volunteers, doing their best, run Pride. Sure, they make mistakes but at least they pick up the bat and show for the game when other, perhaps more competent, people shrug and make other choices. And Ottawa is far from alone in this. Until Pride organizations grow to the point where they can hire quality paid staff, they have a history of racking up deficits in city after city across North America. In Ottawa, we need Pride to survive long enough to grow, and you can help.

See, Your Worship, the deficit is also your fault – you and council and city staff.

Ottawa has a history of giving our Pride festival pennies and asking back dollars. The most you’ve ever granted for this, the city’s second-largest parade and the primary annual expression of one of the city’s most important cultural groups is $4,000. And yet you charge tens of thousands of dollars – some $30,000 last year, we are told – for policing, garbage collection, street closing and barricades and lost parking meter revenues (even though the street was closed on a day when parking is free). You give $3,000, you take back 10 times that amount. Contrast that to city hall’s generosity for festivals that are not dominated by gays and lesbians. Last year, Bluesfest got a $44,000 donation, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival got $72,000 and the Ottawa Folk Festival took home $35,000. Even the dragon-boat race got more than Pride – $6,000.

Come on, Your Worship. City council is missing the boat. Pride is a tourism draw for Ottawa. Tourism Ottawa recognizes this: they’re advertising Ottawa Pride to gays and lesbians in other cities – and good for them! A study by the provincial government found the average visitor to Toronto Pride spent $503. Of course, tourists who fly in spend even more.

But it’s not just about the money Pride brings in. Pride is the most important cultural event in Ottawa’s gay calendar. You and council must treat it with the respect due a major cultural festival.

In Montreal, city hall gives their annual Pride festival $25,000 in cash. The provincial tourism ministry chips in another $100,000. Even the feds spend $100,000 from Economic Development Canada.

Toronto city council is giving $100,000 this year. And it absorbs the cost of city services, such as policing, road closures (for three days), garbage collection, barricades, rentals – you get the picture.

Your Worship, with respect: city hall is not being fair to Ottawa’s gays and lesbians. And it’s endangering the financing of our Pride festivities. We’re tired of seeing our Pride Committee groveling for pennies from our community while you charge them big dollars for city services. And give more money to other cultural festivals.

We want our share. We appreciate our yearly opportunity to meet with you, Your Worship. It’s time to cough up: say, $30,000 in cash or no charge for services. Every year.

Sorry, Your Worship, but gone are the days when queers quietly sit at the back of the bus, thankful for even getting a seat. These days, we like it when a big, butch dyke drives the bus and the rest of us sit near the front singing Abba songs.

Why don’t you get on the bus with us, Your Worship? We’re on a freedom ride. We’re going to party for Pride and you might as well sit at the front as guest of honour.