International human rights and the global fight for LGBT justice have been a key focus at the 2013 InterPride conference in Montreal.
But while those discussions are happening, many delegates are speaking up about the lack of diversity within InterPride itself.
“This conference is not representative of the wider LGBT community,” says Kendra Gray, who represented the Peace Corps on one of the conference’s panels. “Look around. It’s white, cis, able-bodied, upper- and middle-class. They don’t speak for most LGBT people.”
InterPride is the international umbrella organization for the world’s Pride organizers. The reality, however, is that large parts of the globe are not represented. The majority of delegates are from the US, Canada and Western Europe. The delegate from Uganda could not attend because the High Commission of Canada to Kenya denied his visa. There was one delegate from Puerto Rico and one from Latvia.
Noticeable absences included Jamaica and the Caribbean, Asia, South America, Russia and the many countries in Africa.
“All countries are not represented,” Gray says. “InterPride is really North American. Theoretically, they support the whole world, but they use very Western language. We say, ‘Why can’t they come?’ But really, InterPride should make an effort to go there.”
InterPride regional directors Dallas Barnes and Chrissy Taylor are two voices on the board advocating strongly for more diversity. Both say the organization still has a long way to go.
On the first night of the conference, InterPride scheduled an evening event that women were not even permitted to attend — a trip to LUX, a gay men’s strip club in Montreal’s Village.
“The problem is, there weren’t any social events scheduled for women,” Barnes says. “Then we were told to go to the Black & Blue festival. That’s not an accessible space for women. That’s not something we necessarily enjoy going to that celebrates our sexuality.”
Another criticism is that the women’s caucus was cut short to allow TD CanadaTrust to make a statement and play the company’s “It Gets Better” video.
“That was a surprise,” Barnes says. “Everyone was told they have to watch [the presentation] and be a part of it. I get it. The sponsors need to be recognized, but when it cuts into something as important as a women’s caucus, and we are strongly encouraged to watch it, that’s not fair.”
It’s been noted a number of times that the conference is dominated by more than 85 percent white gay men. But it goes further than that. “The nature of the organization is about privilege,” Gray says.
The lack of diversity is very noticeable. In fact, it became the focus of the panel discussion at the Peace Corps’ workshop.
“You gotta wonder how well InterPride reaches out to minority groups,” Gray says. “White, cis, privileged people are having these discussions for other people.”
Lauryn Kronick, a Pride Toronto board member, wonders why there is no ASL/LSQ interpretation. Several delegates have noted an urgent need to address intersectional issues, specifically around people of colour and sex workers.
“What’s been glaring for me, and I have mentioned it in one of my workshops, is a real lack of anti-oppression understanding in general,” says Sarah Eves, from Kingston Pride. “That’s not only with the Pride organizations in attendance, but also those on the board of InterPride.”
Pride Toronto’s Susan Gapka, who attended the trans caucus, told InterPride that some trans delegates have felt unsafe at the conference. “They tell us that they are often misgendered and experience a lot of sexism from other delegates,” she says.
Gapka says she’s heard a lot of discussion about marriage rights from American delegates yet very little on the violence experienced by trans communities. “In Canada, we still don’t have federal trans human rights. I would like to see InterPride address this.”
In the session focused on gender identity and trans rights, Françoise Susset, a member of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH), emphasized the importance of creating space for trans people at Pride events.
Susset says there was a disconnect that happened very early on within the LGBT movement. As gay men and lesbians began to fight for marriage equality and mainstream acceptance, those who subvert and challenge gender norms were silenced.
“Looking at black-and-white footage of Prides 30 years ago, there was much more gender representation. We left some people behind,” she says. "We left those people behind who hindered our inclusion: the butches, trans people, drag queens. We sold out.
"Trans inclusion is essential to this fight. What’s really insidious is we started policing the community, policing people who don't fit in."
After the presentation, one delegate from California told the panel that trans visibility and inclusion is not something his board talks about. "I feel a lot of shame that I have to come to Canada to be educated on this stuff,” he says. “We don't talk about this in California."
Barnes says the reason for the lack of diversity has a lot to do with the significant age difference between the younger delegates and the “old guard.”
“There are a lot of established InterPride individuals who have been on the board and involved in this organization for a very long time,” she says. “Now we are seeing a lot of new ideas and ideas that have just not been brought up before. So we are seeing a bit of a clash.”
InterPride is a reflection of many Pride boards in large cities, Taylor says. In a sense, it has become the “gay establishment.”
It’s also important to recognize that many of these conversations about intersectionality and queer and trans visibility just aren’t happening in many places in the US.
“And, in the case of the Prides in the small communities, they are more worried about not getting beaten,” says Pride Toronto executive director Kevin Beaulieu.
Barnes says the conference must strike a balance and move beyond marriage. “In Canada, we did that 10 years ago. So trying to find a way for us to communicate and get things solved that may not even be on the radar for someone in the US is really difficult.”
“I can’t imagine anyone 18 or 19 applying for this board. They would be eaten alive. And that’s unfortunate. It’s slowly changing but not fast enough,” she adds.
Suz Seymour, InterPride’s vice-president of operations, acknowledges that there’s a lack of diversity and that it’s a problem.
“More and more women have been attending the conference over the years,” she says. “We have been working hard to make sure women are included. We try to include women speakers, and events for women, and that alone is a struggle.”
Still, Taylor wants the board to do a much better job understanding the trans and gender-nonconforming communities.
“The culture of the board right now is an inaccessible place in terms of language and recognition of other pronouns,” she says. “We’ve never once gone around the table at the board meeting and asked for their preferred pronoun.”
She is one of several voices at the conference calling for a trans VP position to be created. At InterPride, executive positions are divided along gender lines. There are a “female-identified” co-president and “female-identified” vice-presidents.
Jaime Martin, director of operations with Pride Toronto, asked, “What if a person doesn’t identify as either gender?” Co-president Gary A Van Horn Jr responded, explaining that any candidate would have to identify as one or the other. “It’s in the bylaws.”
Both Barnes and Taylor want the board to eventually move beyond the gender binary. “But we’re working with a lot of people who don’t understand that,” Taylor says.
But, Barnes reminds, it’s important to understand why InterPride had to create access for women on the board in the first place.
“I think right now, the female branding of positions is security,” she says. “[Otherwise] it would be difficult for female-identified individuals to even get a spot on the board. As much as we want to erase it, we need it right now.”
“This is not an ideal world. As much as we’d want to get rid of the binary, we can’t right now. I’m afraid if we didn’t have it, the board would be all men.”