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Meet your nominees for Pride Toronto board

Six board members to be elected at AGM Oct 27

Susan Gapka.

Nominees for the board of directors of Pride Toronto (PT) include two outspoken trans women, two young community leaders, a journalist who has documented gay liberation since Stonewall and an international events manager who is already planning for WorldPride in 2014.

The election takes place at the annual general meeting on Oct 27 at Church St Junior Public School at 7pm.

During the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) meetings, the community spoke strongly about the need to more accurately reflect the diversity of Toronto’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community on the PT board.

Long-time activist Susan Gapka has spent years advocating for trans rights at the local, provincial and federal levels. She is the founder of the Rainbow Health Network and chair of the Trans Health Lobby Group.

“Pride Toronto has had a troubled couple years,” she says, adding that she won’t be able to attend the meeting because she is in Moncton for the Mental Health Commission. She has sent a video in her place. “But I have seen some positive changes over the past year, and I thought it was time I use my background and experience to step up.”

There are 10 candidates running for six board positions, which will bring the board up to 10 members. Board members serve for three years.

The board will add an additional two board members in January, says Pride Toronto co-chair Francisco Alvarez. That’s being done because the board was concerned there wouldn’t be enough diversity in the candidates, such as women and trans people, he says. “But I’m pleased that there is actually quite a bit of diversity in the candidates.”

Along with Alvarez, who has one more year as co-chair, the current board consists of treasurer Daniel Knox, Evan Dean and Roy Mitchell. Co-chair Margaret Ngai has decided not to return. Alvarez says Ngai is travelling more with her new job and can no longer devote the time. But Alvarez says Ngai is maintaining her ties with PT. She will remain on the PT WorldPride Committee.

The other trans candidate, Stefonknee Wolscht, says she has an intimate understanding of the community’s most marginalized members. Wolscht has battled with depression, homelessness and isolation from her children and grandchildren since transitioning.

“We need a real strong voice for the trans community to begin to rebuild,” she says. “The board needs transparency and accountability, and I have the passion and the time for that commitment.”

Paola Solorzano was born and raised in Mexico. She moved to Canada eight years ago. Solorzana served as president of the Latino Group Hola, a Toronto-based group for queer Latinos and immigrants, for two years.

Solorzano says the Latino community is another group PT needs to reach out to.

“So often with the Latino community, people don’t speak the language. Immigrants come to the community, and they are isolated,” she says. “Latino Group Hola is the bridge to the gay community in Toronto for newcomers. It’s important to have that visibility on the Pride board to bring the community together.”

James Dubro has been an investigative journalist and crime writer for more than 35 years. He writes regularly for Xtra, most recently covering the 2009 murder of Toronto gay man Christopher Skinner. Dubro has many years under his belt as a Pride volunteer. He was in New York during the Stonewall riots and in Toronto during the bathhouse raids in 1981 and “has been going to gay pride events before there ever was Pride.”

Dubro says he watched PT flounder under incompetent management, which pushed the organization into the red financially and jeopardized its connection with the community. But now, after consulting with the community for the CAP, he says the organization is on the path to rebuilding. “I want to ensure they stay on track, and I believe they are on track.”

“We should listen to the CAP report when it says Pride should stop trying to be bigger, bigger, bigger and instead be better, better, better,” he says. “And it should always be conscious of the community it is serving.”

PT coordinators Sean Hillier and Tyler Johnson hope to bring some youth to the board table.

Johnson spent two years as a PT volunteer and one year as the youth coordinator. At the 2011 Pride parade, Johnson brought with him the largest youth contingent in Pride Toronto’s history. He also worked to support honoured dyke and youth grand marshal Leanne Iskander, an advocate for gay-straight alliances, at the parade.

“We need to inspire our young people because it’s up to Pride Toronto to help make things better for youth,” he says. “I want to continue to engage youth to be part of our community and help make a difference.”

Hillier, who has been involved with PT for three years, is completing his PhD in policy studies. His research focuses on both First Nations and trans people and the impact policy has on healthcare issues affecting them.

“I think being a coordinator is already a big time commitment in itself, so I feel I can offer a great deal to the board,” he says.

Mark Smith calls himself an event planner, strategic communicator, logistics manager, community advocate and free-speech activist. With experience working behind the scenes at international events like the Olympics, Smith says his experience will come in handy as planning ramps up for WorldPride 2014. Smith already sits on the WorldPride 2014 steering committee.

“We have to show Toronto and the world that we have a community to be proud of,” he says. “This is what I do for a living. So I am willing to take a step back from my job to ensure this moves forward for PT.”

Current board member Chad Simon says PT needs to keep pushing forward in its implementation of the CAP recommendations and focus on hosting WorldPride in 2014.

“There was so much community engagement put into the CAP report. The community spent hours and hours, arguing and coming to a resolution,” he says. “That is what our community wanted and Pride is for the community.”

Luka Amona was elected to the PT board last year for the end of a term. In that time, he has served as co-chair of the CAP implementation committee. He has 15 years experience working in the private, not-for-profit and public sectors in Europe, Africa and North America.

“My goal is to engage, energize and elevate the community,” he says.

Xtra could not reach Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern for comment. His biography details a 16-year career in international business. Gomez-Wiuckstern is head of communications and public affairs at one of Toronto’s busiest hospitals. His bio states that he helped promote the first Pride Gala in 2006, rebrand the Community One Foundation and organize events for the 519 Church St Community Centre.

For the candidates’ full bios from Pride Toronto