2 min

Memo To: The World

Just because Pride is rewarding doesn't mean it's easy

Janis Purdy Credit: Xtra files

I have discovered, after many sleepless nights and crazy days, that being a co-chair on the Pride committee is truly the Extreme Sport Of Volunteering.

I learned that even when you plan all year, month after month, pouring over details, surprises still happen. Trucks break down and barriers aren’t delivered and the TTC tries to send streetcars through the parade, nearly cutting off people’s toes. Nobody tells Pride that the city wants to pick up the rainbow Moose in the middle of Sunday – so Security thinks it’s being stolen. Someone on the parade route falls off a roof forcing emergency vehicles to stop the parade for half an hour.

Promises are forgotten and deliveries fall through and things break, and the feedback rolls in. Large sponsors drop out unexpectedly, deliveries get lost, volunteers don’t show up, and then there’s the rain!

Extreme Pride Volunteering is a cooperative sport, but there are many individual heroes. I am extremely proud of my Fruit Loopz crew and the youth contingent volunteers. A favourite memory is of Lori, Mickey, Michael and Diane laughing with “fatigue humour” while blowing up hundreds of balloons Sunday morning. They helped take my mind off the fact that my eyes were sore and my fingers were aching and turning purple from tying balloon knots.

To those who think that Pride is too corporate, I share your concerns, but my perspective has shifted. Pride Toronto exists with a fiscal fragility that surprised me when I first got involved.

One weekend of rain or one volunteer who de-frauds us (as happened last year) can throw Pride into the red. Businesses know that there is money to be made and they will move in to take advantage of opportunities. When I saw Church St on Friday night, before we had our street closure permits in effect, I thought the vendors and advertisers looked like hawks. (I have a particular memory of the Smart FX van parked in the middle of the Church-Wellesley intersection waving banners).

I learned that if the Pride committee didn’t accept corporate sponsorship, we would not be able to afford to put on this very, very expensive venture and we would not be able to work with the corporate community in a productive way. More importantly, if the committee has some control over corporate involvement, it ensures that resources are channeled back, helping to pay for the community-based aspects of Pride that I treasure.

My biggest lesson (and one I never would have understood from the outside) is that Pride is a surprisingly informal organization. The priorities and needs are set by the people who give input, who show up at meetings, and who are willing to do the work. Fruit Loopz, Block-o-Rama, the Free Zone and AlternaQueer are perfect examples of fabulous new events added because people with passion were determined to make space at Pride for their communities.

Participating really taught me that in order to create change, you have to learn to work with people across differences. The Pride committee is not a handful of homogenous people. There are a lot of us, we are very different from one another, hold different values and priorities, and sometimes we’ve had to fight it out. But I am very grateful for all the volunteers I’ve met through Pride.

I’ve learned so much from everyone and have been humbled by the hard work and selflessness I’ve seen.

I have learned that volunteering at Pride is more demanding, and rewarding, than I could ever have imagined. The sight of 800,000 people celebrating together and sharing Pride is something I am so excited to have helped create. I have to admit, I think I have the Extreme Adrenaline Bug. And I hope more people will join me next year.