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Parkdale event overshadowed by accusations of discrimination

Bar owner says she's been slandered by neighbourhood BIA

The neighbourhood BIA says the Parkdale Drink abruptly cancelled a queer night "so clients would not be uncomfortable." Credit: Andrea Houston

West-end scenesters won’t be able to enjoy a Friday night cocktail and drag show at one Parkdale bar now that its owner has called off a planned queer event that would have featured local performers. 

However, conflicting stories have emerged about why the event at the Parkdale Drink was cancelled, with one local performer accusing owner Catherine Thai of homophobia.

The controversy began on Facebook, where drag performer Kaleb Robertson posted that someone from the neighbourhood’s business improvement area (BIA) told him the Queen West bar cancelled the March 16 event, forcing organizers to scramble for a new venue. 

A member of the BIA tells Xtra that Thai called off the night because she didn’t want her clientele to feel uncomfortable.

Robertson expressed his anger and frustration on his Facebook page and website, jokingly suggesting a kiss-in protest at the Parkdale Drink. “The owners seemed excited about the event. Not sure what changed it for them . . . Guerrilla Queer Bar night anyone?”

Ellie Anglin, assistant coordinator of the Parkdale Village BIA, says a staff member at the Parkdale Drink confirmed the reason for the cancellation.

“I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but it’s a clear case of discrimination,” she says. “[The Parkdale Drink] did say they didn’t want to make their clients uncomfortable. It was very upsetting for all of us at the BIA.”

Thai has denied this, noting that her venue simply can’t accommodate live performers.

The event, dubbed Queer Parking, is part of the Fireside Festival, Anglin says, “a celebration of art, culture and community in Parkdale.” The festival runs from March 12 to 16. 

The queer party has now been relocated to the Cadillac Lounge next door.

Thai says the accusation is “an outright lie.” She says the BIA has potentially done serious damage to her bar’s reputation in the neighbourhood, especially within the queer community.

“This is very upsetting, frustrating and disappointing,” she says. “This is unprofessional of the BIA to be spreading these lies.”

She says the Parkdale Village BIA’s Marcus McLean, who organized the Fireside Festival, asked her in January if the Parkdale Drink would host a queer event featuring a couple DJs.

“I didn’t get an email from Marcus until the end of February about the event,” she says. “In that email, sent nearly six weeks after we spoke, he indicated there would be other live performances. We cancelled the event because of the demands that he was making.

“We are not equipped for live performance. That was never agreed upon. We don’t have the sound system for that, nor do we have change rooms for the drag queens to get dressed. We are a restaurant and lounge. We don’t have that type of space. We committed to two DJs. That’s it. That is what I indicated to Marcus.”

Anglin says she will not reveal the name of the Parkdale Drink staff member who went to the BIA. When pressed for answers, the BIA refused to provide Xtra with any further information.

“It sounds like someone has sour grapes,” Thai says. “I cancelled the event because it turned into something I didn’t agree to. I am very supportive of the gay, lesbian and transgender community. This is defamation. I don’t know where the BIA got that information. This is unacceptable.”

McLean refused to clarify the original conversation.

“The communication that did or did not happen really does not help us at all,” he says. “I will not comment any further because I need to focus on the positive. BIA members and the BIA itself are connected, and it would be counterintuitive as an organization to be slandering or slamming individual members.”

Robertson, who is performing as Fluffy Souffle, declined to be interviewed. Regina, of Toronto dance pop duo Light Fires, and local performance artist Philip Cairns are also performing, Anglin says.