6 min

Mathieu Chantelois is Toronto Pride’s new ED

Can he take one of the world’s largest Pride festivals to the next level?

“The city and the mayor’s continuing support is important, and we are confident that we will be able to move forward together." Credit: jamo best

Journalist. Community ambassador. Media personality.

Mathieu Chantelois is a man of many talents, and as of Thursday, Jan 22, he’ll be adding a new bullet to his resumé when he is appointed the new executive director of Pride Toronto. After successful stints on the boards of Montreal’s Divers/Cité and the 519 Church Street Community Centre, he is excited to help shepherd the organization into a new era.

He talks to Xtra about his new role, representing the community and what we can expect from Pride Toronto now that WorldPride is behind us.

Xtra: Prior to Pride Toronto, you served as the chair of the board at The 519, were involved with a number of community groups, and worked in journalism. You spent the last year and a half as director of marketing and communications for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. How did these previous roles prepare you for your new position?

Mathieu Chantelois: Strangely enough, it feels like I have been sharpening the skills and building relationships in preparation for this role for quite some time now. Over the last 15 years, I have been leading many initiatives within the LGBTTQQ2ISA communities and have dedicated much of my time to community organizations.

My educational background in journalism allows me to see the world through a different lens. I recognize the importance of constant communication and will strive to ensure that Pride Toronto continues to be transparent and accessible to its members. I also think my experience in project management and strategic planning will help Pride Toronto further flourish this year.

I also had the opportunity to sit on the board of directors of Montreal’s Divers/Cité festival for 10 years, and for seven years I was the honorary chair of Toronto’s Green Space festival, which has raised over a million dollars to help support the 519 Church Street Community Centre. I was also the board chair of The 519 for three years, which allowed me to gain experience on building successful development strategies to enable the centre to provide more support and programs to our community.

What do you find most daunting about being ED, and what components of the role are you most drawn to? 

We have a very diverse community, which means we don’t always have the same approach and opinions on certain matters. The diversity of our community is what makes it so beautiful and unique, and that is also what attracts me to this position.

I moved to Toronto in 2000 to be a cast member on the Canadian reality TV show U8TV: The Lofters. The first time I went online to check my so-called fan emails, I had received emails from people saying they hoped my boyfriend and I would die from AIDS. I spent 12 months getting homophobic insults and threats. Although we’ve come a long way since then, I know there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are still many other members of our community for whom we have to fight and whose victories we will work hard to achieve and ultimately celebrate.

I’ve learned to always act according to my own set of values; I believe in respect, inclusiveness, accessibility, diversity, equal opportunity and collaboration. I know it’s important to listen to different points of view and ensure the best decisions are made to successfully move forward. Pride Toronto has strived to embody those values, and I am thrilled to help the organization become better and more representative of the diverse community that we serve.

I am excited to have the opportunity to build bridges and to work with our community on creating a social, political and cultural impact in our city.

WorldPride was a benchmark for Pride Toronto. In what direction are you looking to take both the event and the organization now that WorldPride is behind you?

WorldPride was a tremendous success, and I’d like to thank the team and the thousands of volunteers who helped bring the festival to life. We, as a community, really worked together to build the best WorldPride ever hosted. The cultural programming was truly world-class. Toronto welcomed activists and intellectuals from around the world for a significant human rights conference, and the mainstream media covered a lot of important issues about our community. We had the biggest trans and dyke marches in our history. The parade was record-breaking. People from around the world fell in love with Toronto — a city that showed widespread support for our community.

I want to build on the successes from our past and continue to bring to Toronto memorable Pride celebrations. We’ve learned a lot from last year, and we will have to create new opportunities to ensure continued success moving forward. This really requires the support of all our community members and stakeholders, whom I look forward to working with in the future, and from the board to ensure we are headed in the right direction.

Is there a new goal in place? And are you looking to build on what has come before or scale back with this year’s festivities?

Pride Toronto is in the midst of developing a new strategic plan. We have a massive outreach and consultation campaign underway, which includes an online survey, community forums and roundtable discussions with our many stakeholders and partners. This work and the important conversations we’re having will help us determine the organization’s key priorities and map out our long-term strategy for the next several years ahead. We will honour our community’s history, build on the legacy of WorldPride, host an unforgettable Pride Week 2015 and ensure a bright and sustainable future for the organization for many years to come.

What do you feel you bring to this role and organization that makes you different from your predecessors?

I have a tremendous respect for the work the Pride staff has been doing for the last years. I believe my experience working with the Green Space festival, the 519 Church Street Community Centre, Divers/Cité and several other not-for-profit organizations, has prepared me well for this role.

Key areas of focus for me will be stakeholder engagement and communications and bringing the cultural festival to the next level. I will, of course, take the opportunity during my orientation period and the strategic-plan outreach and consultations to learn more about Pride Toronto and our stakeholders. I look forward to bringing energy, drive and passion to an organization that deserves nothing less.

Pride is an event with year-round relevance and one that is connected to many identities and communities. How do you intend to build bridges between the different groups within the community seeking representation? 

I made myself a promise: to start the beginning of each week by meeting a member/leader of different community organizations for breakfast. I’ll use these opportunities to introduce myself but mostly to learn about them, their organization and vision for Pride. I’ll share highlights of my morning talks on my social media platforms and will invite the community to a new kind of dialogue. I also see this as an opportunity to increase our membership and make the decision-making process at Pride Toronto as transparent as possible.

What are your thoughts on Mayor John Tory’s statement that he would deny Pride Toronto funding in the event that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid participates in the festivities? 

I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Mayor John Tory personally. He has always been a great listener, and I look forward to the opportunity to meet with him and have a dialogue about his concerns and remind him of the benefits and opportunities that Pride brings to our community and the broader city. We have fought hard, historically, to gain the city’s support of our communities’ signature summer event and have appreciated that support for some time now. The city and the mayor’s continuing support is important, and we are confident that we will be able to move forward together.

Finally, what does Pride mean to you? And what is your ideal vision for Pride Toronto’s 2015 celebrations?

Pride is a celebration of art, culture, history and the successes achieved by our community. It is also an opportunity to educate and create awareness about, and thereby promote, greater equality for our diverse communities. I am proud to be able to be myself and to love who I want to love, without fearing persecution.

Equality is a human right, and we will continue to recognize our history and celebrate what the LGBTTIQQ2SA community has achieved over the last 35 years for social equality and justice. We have stood united and will continue to stand united to show everyone we are proud of who we are and where we’ve come from.

For the 2015 Pride celebrations, we will host one of the largest Pride celebrations, including a 10-day festival with a variety of programs and activities to meet the needs of families and individuals. I want to continue to promote an inclusive environment for the Pride 2015 celebrations and would like to see an increase in membership for Pride Toronto. I can’t wait to “Get Out and Play.”