“I have organizational, PR and marketing skills. I want to be an ally and further this. If somebody doesn’t like it, oh well, there’s nothing I can do. I’m just going to keep forging ahead, just like you guys do.”
Sandi Stetson may be an unlikely president of Fierté Canada Pride (FCP), but this straight-identified organizer’s dedication is not in question.
Stetson is in Ottawa overseeing FCP’s annual conference and AGM. When TD Canada Trust presented a video featuring queer allies during a presentation on corporate sponsorship of Pride, Stetson became emotional, as dedicated allies often go unrecognized.
Stetson, who has worked as an event planner for more than 25 years, joined the team behind Edmonton Pride (EP) in 2006.
Alberta can be unwelcoming to queer organizations, and Stetson says there were some uphill battles. She recalls one situation when she asked her neighbour who owned an antique car if he would loan out his sweet ride to transport the mayor during a parade. When the neighbour discovered the parade was for Edmonton Pride, he backed out.
“Being another straight person, I can tell him what I really think in a constructive way. Maybe he’ll hear it in a different way . . . when sometimes it may not be as acceptable hearing it from an LGBT person,” she explains.
The ongoing joint FCP and InterPride (IP) conference is Stetson’s eighth conference overall. She has three IP conferences and five FCP gatherings under her belt. She recalls attending IP’s 2008 Vancouver conference while representing Edmonton Pride.
“It was a really big eye-opener and a life-changer for me,” she says.
Surrounded by Pride delegates from all over the globe, Stetson says, she felt nervous and insignificant, as the size of Edmonton’s Pride pales in comparison to other large-scale queer celebrations.
Then lesbian jokes came her way.
“I remember doing a lot of walks on the waterfront and just thinking, “’What do I do?’” she says. “I kind of feel like a liar if I don’t say. It kept on happening. A few people came up to me and said, ‘You’re straight, aren’t you?’”
During a women’s caucus roundtable discussion, Stetson decided to come out as straight. The majority of delegates supported her identity, but a few said they were not comfortable with a straight person heading a Pride organization, she recalls.
“What I said to them was we’re fighting for equality and against being discriminated against because of our sexuality, and now you are doing the exact same thing to somebody else.”
Last year, when friends suggested Stetson run for FCP president, she accepted the challenge but made her identity known to all voting members.
Stetson is thrilled by the success of Capital Pride’s FCP conference and says her personal highlight is the familial aura of the event.
“Whether you’re a seasoned attendee or it’s your first time coming, it’s a warm welcome for everybody. It’s like a family homecoming.”
If anyone takes issue with her sexuality, Stetson says, she will just keep looking forward and working to improve Prides across the country.