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Last public CAP meeting turns fiery

Pride Toronto accused of treating Blockorama poorly

Credit: Andrea Houston

The final public session of the Pride Community Advisory Panel (CAP) was marked by sharp criticism of Pride Toronto (PT) and repeated calls for the resignation of the organization’s executive director, Tracey Sandilands.

The session was held Dec 14 at the 519 Church Street Community Centre and was attended by about 35 people. It was envisioned as a forum specifically for gay, lesbian and trans people of colour.

Participants suggested that PT’s management and board of directors ought to be held accountable for poor communication and a perceived lack of engagement and transparency.

“I don’t understand how all these mistakes [by PT] could have happened,” said Joan Johnson, who coordinates the Blockorama volunteers. “There was a total public dismissal of racialized groups and youth groups at Pride. The executive director should be fired.”

Blockorama is an all-day dance party celebrating black queer pride, traditionally held on the Sunday of Pride weekend. Its home from 1999 to 2005 was the parking lot across from Wellesley Station. But the event has been moved three times since 2006; in 2010, PT tried to move Blockorama again but backed down in the face of considerable protest.

Rinaldo Walcott, of the Black, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Coalition, told the room Blockorama is a centrepiece event during Pride, and that PT should recognize its importance in showcasing diversity, especially in advance of World Pride in Toronto in 2014.

“In 13 years Blockorama has been moved four times, each time to a less satisfying space,” he said. “People of colour have been wrongly ignored by PT. How diverse will Pride be if we all stay home? PT needs to reflect the diverse Toronto demographic.”

Walcott called on PT to meet with the community face to face.

“Face the anger,” he said. “And if you can’t, go somewhere else.”

Redman – aka DJ Nik Red – spun at Blockorama’s inaugural party and has been involved ever since.

“I’m always surprised by the lack of knowledge at PT. That is so disgusting to me,” he said. “They are selling [the Toronto Pride festival] outside the country. There’s been a ghettoization of racial artists. Local artists don’t get their fair shake at Pride. We program Blockorama for a very small amount of money.”

“It’s really important that we are placed visibly at Pride,” said Black CAP executive director Shannon Ryan. “It’s an opportunity for us to reach tens of thousands of people in the community we wouldn’t normally reach. The heart of Pride is lost. Pride’s roots go back to grassroots movements. I feel we have been pushed to the margins. Our message saves lives.”

Akim Adé Larcher, also with the Black, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Coalition, said the source of all of PT’s problems comes from the highest levels of leadership.

“It comes from Tracey on one hand, and also the board of directors that are there, so if we want to fix anything they have to accept that they need to resign,” said Larcher. “They have to understand that they have sufficiently damaged this community. They have to resign because it’s the right thing to do.”

Others took issue with some of the online survey questions on the CAP website, saying the questions are “leading.”

“I filled out the survey. I wasn’t going to, largely because it annoyed me,” said Omisoore Dryden. “There was something offensive about the survey. There are better ways to phrase questions. It’s as if QuAIA [Queers Against Israeli Apartheid] is some terrorist force trying to take the virginity and sanctity of Pride.”

When asked who designed the survey, CAP panellist Brent Hawkes said, “We’re all responsible for the survey.”

Panellist Michael Went stressed that the survey is not a referendum, and opinions will not be seen as a vote, one way or another. The answers will be used to develop recommendations.

The CAP will continue private targeted consultations until Jan 15. The report and recommendations, while not binding on PT, are expected by the end of January.