Egale Canada has announced it will present its second annual leadership award to Ed Clark, president and CEO of TD Bank Financial Group (TD).
According to Egale executive director Helen Kennedy, Clark is being recognized for his “visionary leadership” of TD, which is the “single largest supporter of diversity in the workplace and the LGBT community in Canada.”
“The more allies that we can get of the calibre of Ed Clark, I think is a very positive thing,” says Kennedy. “Allies are extremely important to our community.”
Kennedy says TD’s contributions to queer rights are so numbered she can’t begin to list them all. She points to TD’s queer employee groups, inclusivity training, support for gender transitioning in the workplace and the company’s support for Pride celebrations, as well as queer community service providers, professional associations and HIV/AIDS-related charities across Canada.
“They [TD] really go beyond what any other organization does in promoting LGBT issues,” says Kennedy. “There are the obvious things that people think about all the time — yeah, they fund Pride, but it’s much more than that.”
TD has provided funding to support the expansion of Egale’s Safe Schools Campaign, but TD has not publicly disclosed the amount.
Last year, Egale came under fire for giving its inaugural leadership award to Jaime Watt, an openly gay senior communications adviser to former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris. Watt received the award for his work on Bill 5, which changed provincial statutes to give same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex common-law couples.
But community activists noted that Watt had played a central role in helping the Harris government get elected in 1995 and 1999. Activists pointed to the damage the Harris government did to queer communities in Ontario. Watt works for Navigator, a public relations company that previously donated office space to Egale. (This summer, Egale moved into a new office space, independent from Navigator.)
This year, Egale is giving its award to one of Pride Toronto’s (PT) corporate sponsors, but Kennedy says the decision to present Clark with the award has nothing to do with TD’s funding support for PT. Kennedy sits on the PT board of directors, but she says she was not involved in Egale’s decision to give the award to Clark. The decision was made by a committee of volunteers.
“I lick the envelopes that send out the letter,” says Kennedy. “My role is a consultative role in terms of implementing what they tell me to do.”
In April, TD weighed in on the PT controversy concerning Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. Scott Mullin, vice-president of community relations at TD, sent a letter to Tracey Sandilands, executive director of PT, after PT reversed its initial policy of vetting all parade groups and signs. Mullin reiterated TD’s support for Pride but wrote, “I will be honest and say that it has become increasingly challenging to do so.”
Kennedy says the letter did not affect the committee’s decision.
“This is not a Pride Toronto award,” says Kennedy. “This is a national leadership award. This has nothing to do with Pride Toronto.”
This summer, TD donated $300,000 to Pride celebrations across North America. In total, the company sponsored 10 Pride festivals in Canada and four in the United States.
Mullin says PT’s funding is not in jeopardy.
“We’re aware that Pride Toronto is going through a review process, and we obviously are always looking at our sponsorships,” he says. “We sponsor many things in the LGBT community and some things are new and some things we move on from, but we have no specific plans for Pride other than continuing our relationship.”
Mullin says Clark has demonstrated “amazing leadership” and is personally committed to TD’s diversity agenda, especially queer issues.
He says the award is a welcome surprise.
“I think, coming from our perspective, the idea that Egale would extend this honour to a corporate leader is not what people might have anticipated,” says Mullin, “and I think, in that sense, it’s a very pleasant surprise and a delightful honour.”
In 2009, Clark was paid a salary of $10.4 million.
Asked why the award was not given to a grassroots activist, Kennedy responded, “It’s only the second year of the award, right? Leadership comes in many different forms, shapes and sizes, and there are great activists out there at every level. We feel that at this particular level, somebody like an ally like Ed doesn’t get thanked by our community very often, and we want him to know that we recognize the contribution that he’s making to our community.”
Clark could not be reached for comment. In a press release he said he’s “deeply honoured.”
“I’m proud to lead an organization where employees and leaders are so committed to embedding diversity in everything we do,” Clark said in the press release. “Working to build a more diverse and inclusive environment where everyone is respected and has the opportunity to fulfill their potential is not only the right thing to do, it’s critical to achieving our mission to be a top North American bank.”
The award will be presented at the High School Confidential Gala on Friday, Sept 24 at the Royal York Hotel. The gala will also feature a performance by Canadian singer Carole Pope and a keynote speech by trans activist Georgina Beyer, former member of parliament from New Zealand. Comedian Elvira Kurt will MC the event. All proceeds from the gala will support the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust Safe Schools Campaign to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying and harassment in Canadian schools. Individual tickets can be purchased for $195 or corporate tables of 10 at $2,500. To purchase tickets, call 416-642-6335.