Each year Pride Toronto holds a vote to determine who gets to be the honoured group for the year. But with no limits on who gets a say in the decision, what’s to stop a nominated group from stacking the vote?
Last year the Prime Timers, a group for gay men 40 and older, shared the title of honoured group along with Supporting Our Youth (SOY).
Prime Timers president Gus Kieley stresses the importance of being selected, both as a recognition of the work the group does as well as a means to increase visibility. “We’re proud of the work we do and we want to let the gay community know that we’re here.”
But Kieley admits that groups with a larger membership have an automatic advantage when it comes down to the vote.
“With a large group like Prime Timers if you can rally your troops to the meeting you’re probably in,” he says. “Our group has over 250 members and they were all encouraged to come out and vote.”
For smaller groups, getting the nod isn’t quite so straightforward. Asif Kamal represented two nominated groups at last year’s selection meeting — the queer Muslim group Salaam and SOY. He says groups with a smaller membership are at a disadvantage.
“Groups that are underrepresented at the meeting… aren’t going to be selected,” he says.
Kamal adds that it’s not just the size of a group but also the comfort level of the members that can present a challenge.
“Salaam has a lot of members who are new to Canada and may not be as comfortable in English,” he says. “As well, some of them may not be comfortable coming to the gay community so it can be challenging to get them to attend the meeting.”
Pride cochair David Anderson says he’s confident in the existing selection process.
“Our desire is to involve everybody who wants to participate which is why we hold an open vote,” says Anderson. “We hope that many people come out to participate in the vote and listen carefully to the story each group presents before casting a ballot.”
Conceived of as a means to pay tribute to the organizations that embody the spirit of Pride, the honoured group receives special recognition by being placed at the front of Sunday’s Pride parade as well as being highlighted in Pride Toronto materials and festivities.
Kamal says that Pride could do more to support the groups that are selected to be honoured, particularly smaller groups without a lot of resources. For example, although Pride Toronto covers the honoured group’s entrance fee for Pride parade — between $100 and $1,000 depending on the type of group — the group has to pay upfront and be reimbursed later.
“This can be challenging for smaller groups,” Kamal says, explaining that many smaller groups don’t necessarily have a budget to draw on for those funds. While the honoured group may also be reimbursed for costs related to building, renting or decorating its float, the group has to have the money to front in the first place.
All in all, Kamal says he doesn’t find the process accessible to smaller, less mainstream groups.
“The process feels very white male dominated, though as a member of a visible minority you often feel that anyway in the queer community.”