Should charity really begin at home? Does every dollar really make a difference?
Toronto queers might be asking themselves these questions as they get excited about the widely anticipated True Colors tour, scheduled to hit Toronto on Tue, Jun 19.
Conceived by Cyndi Lauper as a way to “give back” to the queer community which has supported her for many years, True Colors features a distinctly diverse lineup including Erasure, The Dresden Dolls, The MisShapes, Deborah Harry, The Gossip, Lauper herself and, at four of the tour’s 15 stops, Toronto’s own The Cliks.
The event is touted on its website as aiming to “bring together Americans across the country to voice their solidarity against discrimination and for equality, and raise public awareness about the issues facing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.” Billed as a fundraiser, US$1 from every ticket sold goes to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a queer lobby organization that has been working for equal rights in the US for more than 25 years. Parents, Families And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) and The Matthew Shepard Foundation will have booths at the event; attendees will receive purple “Erase Hate” wristbands. The local promoter House Of Blues has arranged for Pride Toronto to be on hand to do a twoonie drive.
Sounds like a special night of outstanding talent and a good cause, right?
But as soon as the event was announced I couldn’t help but question the fundraising aspect of the concert. Given that countless Canadian queer organizations are regularly looking for support — and are often much poorer than their US counterparts — why should Canadian ticket buyers be supporting a US organization? And will a $1 donation really make a difference?
“Well, you’re certainly better off up there,” says Lauper when asked why Canadians should be supporting a US charity. “You have advanced much further in terms of equal rights for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans] people.”
That’s true. In comparison to our southern neighbours, Canadian queers have definitely achieved much more — protection from discrimination, marriage rights, further advances with pension rights and the like. Meanwhile, in 33 US states, you can legally be fired for being queer. Same-sex marriage still seems an impossibility. Have we achieved such a queer utopia up here that we should now help our US brothers and sisters?
“I wanted to put together a party. My Toronto friends said I had to come up there,” says Lauper. “Whatever money we can raise is good.” Lauper says that True Colors LLC, the entity she’s created to present the tour, is funding the tour completely out of pocket and might not break even.
“Even with that forecast,” explains Lauper’s manager Lisa Barbaris, “we have agreed to pay a dollar from every ticket sold [to HRC].”
When I asked whether they would consider funnelling some of the booty to a Canadian organization, Lauper was open to the idea. But Barbaris says it’s not possible — the donation is exclusively promised to HRC, as it will be every year for this, hopefully, annual event.
Seeing top performers is certainly one good motivation for attending. But is supporting a US lobby group a good motivation, too?
Let’s say there are 20,000 seats in each venue, and they all sell out. On the 15-date tour, that would raise US$300,000 for HRC. It seems like a drop in the bucket for an organization which reported almost US$40 million in revenue in 2006, but that would be a lot of money for a local group like the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line. Or even Egale Canada, our closest to equivalent to HRC, which has a total annual budget of a few hundred thousand dollars.
“We really believe that charitable work has no borders,” says Lucas Silveira, vocalist/guitarist of The Cliks. “We’re really proud to be part of a tour of this calibre and to take part in giving something back to such a fantastic charitable organization.”
While Lauper has been impressed with HRC’s work, the group has recently come under scrutiny for possibly inflated membership numbers, perceived alignment with the Democratic Party (thereby ignoring work done by queer-positive Republicans) and the US$26.4 million it spent buying and renovating its new headquarters.
Criticism of HRC has become so sharp and frequent by a wide spectrum of prominent political bloggers — including Pam Spaulding (Pamshouseblend.com) and Andrew Sullivan (Andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com) — that Chris Crain, former editor of the Washington Blade who blogs at Citizen Crain (Citizenchris.typepad.com), has dubbed the continued bashing a “gay insurgency” against HRC. Representatives of HRC were contacted for this article, but did not reply.
Setting aside the worthiness of HRC, we can look at the cost of the project versus the fundraising benefits. Sure, every dollar matters, but let’s put that $1 into perspective: Tickets for the Toronto show range in price from $43.50 to $96.50 before taxes, venue fees and Ticketmaster fees, which add up to an additional $20.25. These prices are fairly reasonable when compared to other venues on the tour; the top ticket for the Radio City Music Hall show in New York goes for US$205.50.
“It could be more and it’s better than nothing,” says Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer of the $1 donation. “I’ve seen too many obscene spreadsheets about how these tours work. Once all the costs are covered, it’s probably a much greater piece of the pie than it seems.”