The devil is, as they say, in the details.
Pride Toronto (PT) has pledged to look into what the community expects of the annual gay fete.
It has asked three queers — lawyer Doug Elliott, 519 Church Street Community Centre executive director Maura Lawless and pastor Brent Hawkes — to put together a panel and mandate. Then, the panellists will conceive of and execute some sort of public discussion of what PT should do and be.
Elliott and Lawless are on vacation, but some of what Rev Brent Hawkes told me inspires confidence.
Hawkes makes the process sound a little like a blue ribbon panel — or, dare I say, an inquiry — where a group goes out and gathers tons of evidence and assembles it into a report. That report typically concludes with a list of recommendations.
Hawkes is committed to big, public meetings at which people can air their grievances. In fact, he says he’s committed to the whole process being as public as possible. Once the panel is selected, it will be announced. Once the terms of reference are established, they will be announced. The recommendations, once they’re ready, will be made public at the same time they’re presented to the board.
In between, the panellists are going to ask all of us what we think, and we’ll have the chance to tell them.
Other news raises warning flags. For one thing, Hawkes thinks “targeted” consultations are the way to go to ensure they don’t just hear from “louder voices.” It is in itself a laudable goal, but the danger is that these will turn into private conversations that are not open to scrutiny.
That’s exactly what got PT into trouble with the focus groups it ran in the winter. The meetings were held in private — as focus groups are — and were anonymous. The results were never clearly spelled out to the public.
Soliciting quieter voices is good; soliciting them in private is not. The standard inquiry model is that all Q&As are done in a public forum and transcripts are kept. If you’re looking to reach out to groups that won’t holler at a town hall meeting, there could be a meeting at The 519 with a solicited list of witnesses — and an audience. One weekend-long marathon would probably suffice, or they could be spread over a number of evenings.
Failing that, at the very least, I would hope that the Pride panel does not guarantee anonymity to any of its participants.
At this point, “targeted” consultations are a half-formed idea. The challenges they present can likely be ironed out during the panel’s planning stage. I look forward to the solutions they propose, but it represents a yellow flag at this point. Proceed carefully.
Of greater concern is Hawkes’ timeline. A combination of rolling vacations (Elliott and Lawless as Xtra goes to press, Hawkes for the month of August) means that the panellists — whoever they turn out to be — won’t meet until September, with meetings over the fall and a final list of recommendations generated around Christmas.
This may well be the most practical timeline, but I fear this will be used as a dodge on accountability at PT’s annual general meeting on Sept 23.
After all, PT’s membership typically gets one shot per year to hold its leadership to account. At the AGM, financial numbers are presented, bylaws are introduced and discussed, and board members are elected (or, in some cases, impeached).
By hosting an AGM while the panel is in mid-process, PT’s leadership has in effect created an excuse: we should put off answering all questions and making all decisions until the panel produces its report.
Ironically, by seeking public input, PT risks disenfranchising its members’ right to win changes at the AGM. Rather than using traditional means — demanding answers from the board, passing motions, etc — there is a very real possibility that queers will be told by the leadership that the AGM isn’t the right forum, even though it is.
Rather than direct change at the AGM, queers will likely be asked to submit their ideas to the panel for consideration.
That situation must be avoided, either by accelerating the panel’s timeline or delaying the AGM.
Hawkes doesn’t sound like he’s all that interested in being used as a pawn. I hope the panel he puts together feels the same way.