3 min

New Capital Pride chair hopes to build bridges

Jodie McNamara says 'division' has become part of the 'character of our community'

Jodie McNamara is Capital Pride's new chair. Credit: Courtesy of Capital Pride

Jodie McNamara has been going to Capital Pride since she was 14 or 15, but she didn’t come out until her 20s.

The Ottawa native, who was elected CP’s chair during the organization’s annual general meeting in October, says Pride is important for the entire community, but for youth who are still closeted, the festival and parade provide an essential experience of celebration and solidarity.

As adults living in a relatively accepting city in a country with comparatively progressive legislation, we can forget what it’s like to be a queer youth unsure of what coming out could mean, she says.

“It’s easy to forget that there are people watching that parade for whom this is a really profound, affirming and necessary experience for their ongoing well-being,” says McNamara, who was previously CP’s vice-chair of operations.

For her, it didn’t feel comfortable to come out until she had left home and was living independently. Many teens say they don’t come out to their parents because they’re afraid they’ll be kicked out of the house or won’t be allowed to see their friends, she says.

“My initial involvement with Pride was as the architect behind Etc, which is the youth arm of Capital Pride,” she says. “Right now we’re working with a couple of community partners to produce a series of PSAs that will target the parents of queer youth in Ottawa."

After sending out a survey, 140 responses from queer youth across the city arrived in just under 24 hours, says McNamara, who is passionate about building bridges between parents and queer youth. In fact, building bridges will be key to her leadership as she and the new CP board plan for the year ahead.

With several board member resignations leading up to Pride and the resignation of former chair Micheal Lafontaine during Pride, the internal workings of CP were tumultuous even as the festival itself was a success.

“Capital Pride should be a conciliatory force in the community, and for that to be possible, each of us has to commit to bridge building and conciliation amongst ourselves,” McNamara says. “Because of the recent history, this is something that’s in the forefront of everyone’s mind, and we’ve all in our individual ways made a point of being that.”

While McNamara’s respect for her board and her optimism for the future are boundless, she says CP’s past internal difficulties aren’t indicative of problems that are unique to the organization.

“The queer community at large in Ottawa — there are a lot of divisions within it and there’s a lot of conflict within it. And I would argue that’s really the character of our community, unfortunately,” she says. “It’s a part of who we are, this tendency to get wrapped up in what divides us rather than what unites us.”

Just as the festival and parade exist to bring people together, McNamara says, bringing people together is the focus of the new board.

“Nobody on the board this year wants anything but to be the best possible organization, the most representative organization of everyone,” she says.

Capital Pride 2014

The festival will take place from Aug 15 to 24, with the parade on Aug 24. Although it’s still in the planning stages, the board is in discussions with the Bank Street BIA about a partnership that would include an increased CP presence in the Village, McNamara says.

“The community at large wants the festival back on Bank Street, and that’s something everybody wants, and Capital Pride hears that loud and clear,” she says.

New board

Hannah Watt, returning member, director of youth and families

“Her work on Etc approaches a full-time job,” McNamara says.“Without her commitment to Etc, Capital Pride would not be the youth-friendly organization that it is.”

Ashley Blackwood, returning, director at large

“Everybody’s who’s gone to a queer event last year would remember Ashley because she went to all of them,” McNamara says.“She was our community outreach representative, and she’ll be doing that again this year.”

Giselle Gardipy, returning, treasurer

“She’s been tireless in her commitment . . . doing a thorough spring-cleaning of our finances,” says McNamara, noting that Gardipy is preparing for CP’s upcoming audit by working with a non-profit organization that provides volunteer accounting services.

Rob Swartz, secretary

Many people know Swartz from his involvement with the Ottawa Freedoms, an LGBT-friendly soccer club, and he has been on many boards.

Andrea Guilbault, vice-chair of operations

Guilbault refers to herself as a “volunteer addict,” and her long hours prove it, McNamara says.

Stephanie Lavergne, director at large and finance assistant

You might know Lavergne for her showbiz cred as a Capital King. She also directed the youth glee club.

Luke Smith, vice-chair of communications

He’s a “staple of the queer community” who’s involved with Velvet Studio and queer politics at Carleton University, McNamara says.

Ashley Gaskell, director at large

She’s a “longtime volunteer with Pride and is committed to the festival,” McNamara says.