5 min

Pride ED backtracks yet again

Event logistics manager resigns

THE GOOD OLD DAYS. Pride executive director Tracey Sandilands smiles during her initial interview with Xtra in December. Credit: Jenna Wakani

In yet another mystifying about-face Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands says she will grant interviews to Xtra after all, but only if Pride’s public relations consultant is present.

In January Xtra reported that Sandilands had angrily declared that this paper was out to get Pride and had knifed the organization in the back. She said the Pride Toronto board of directors had approved her decision to no longer respond to Xtra’s requests for interviews.

She was responding to a Jan 1 story, written from a tape-recorded, in-depth face-to-face interview with her in December that enumerated her views about Pride.

Sandilands said the story presented her comments in a negative light. She originally claimed she was misquoted and then that her remarks were taken out of context. But after the recording of the interview was posted on she retracted her accusations saying instead that her comments were not presented fully.

“I’m not going to run the risk of being in this position again,” she said in another taped interview. “I’ve cleared this with the board, we’ll be giving no more interviews to Xtra from hereon. There are enough other media out there who are not out to get us.”

Matt Mills, Xtra’s editorial director, met with Sandilands at her request on Jan 27. Sandilands told him that Pride officials would in fact make themselves available for comment to Xtra’s readers and that there was never a board policy against talking to Xtra.

At a Pride general meeting on Jan 29, when asked about whether or not the board approved Sandilands’ decision, Pride Toronto cochair Genevieve D’Iorio said only that the board is eager to talk to all media.

“The board is for promoting this festival in all mediums: online, in print, in advertising,” she said. “We want people to know about this festival.”

D’Iorio said the stories in Xtra about Sandiland’s comments were accurate.

“There’s not very much to say about what’s been going on with Xtra,” said D’Iorio. “I think it’s been pretty much in the paper what’s been going on with Xtra. Basically Tracey did an interview with Xtra in December. A second interview was made. A full tape recording of the first interview is available on the Xtra website.”

D’Iorio, Sandilands and Pride Toronto staff and directors scattered at the meeting’s conclusion without giving this reporter the opportunity to speak with any of them on anything, let alone to clarify whether or not the board ever cleared Sandilands’ initial decision not to speak to Xtra.

Xtra subsequently emailed D’Iorio to follow up and received a response from Pride public relations consultant Grant Ramsay.

“To be absolutely clear, there is no ban re: talking to Xtra,” he wrote.

For further clarification and to give Sandilands the chance to comment on the record, this reporter dropped by Pride’s office on Jan 4. Sandilands spoke with Xtra but refused to answer some questions saying any interviews would have to be conducted in the presence of Pride’s public relations consultant.

“I’m being careful about making any mistakes,” she said. “As people have been telling me I don’t know the media here. I was expecting a different approach from Xtra. We’ll see. After a few interviews, if I find I can trust you, that may change.”

“To be absolutely clear, there is no ban regarding talking to Xtra,” she wrote in a subsequent email received via Ramsay. “There was never a policy, although I did say I would not personally grant an interview to you [Krishna Rau]. I said that out of frustration but in the interest of moving forward and keeping the community informed I’m prepared to revisit my decision.”

In spite of her previous comments that she cleared her former no-talking-to-Xtra rule with the board, Sandilands writes that the board never approved her decision.

“But the cochairs were informed of my conversations with Xtra and they were both appraised of the situation,” she writes. “I have the full support of the board.”

Why did Sandilands say the board had cleared her decision to alienate Xtra’s readers when in fact it had not?

“I spoke out of frustration over what I perceived to be your continued negativity,” she states. “I travelled over 13,000 kilometres to begin a challenging new position. I realize now I shouldn’t have spoken to Xtra after only eight days on the job. The scope of this position is immense. Challenges need to be met daily. It is an incredibly stressful time and I didn’t anticipate being such a target.”

In a further blow to Pride Toronto, Xtra has learned that event logistics manager Lisa Duke has resigned and will be leaving her post on Feb 13. Duke is the last full-time staff member who worked for the organization during last year’s celebration.

Duke also did not respond to Xtra’s request for an interview.

Sandilands did not say what Pride will do to cope with Duke’s resignation. She says there has been no decision about whether Dukes position will be filled in time for this summer’s celebration. Pride is already seeking to hire a new volunteer program manager.

“As I’m sure you are aware I can’t comment on Lisa’s situation. It is a confidential personnel matter,” wrote Sandilands. “She will be sorely missed at Pride Toronto and we wish her the very best in her future endeavours. Lisa has agreed to continue to be available for questions and the organization has her full support. We will be reviewing our options for the structuring of the [events logistics manager] portfolio over the next few weeks and then we’ll see.”

At the general meeting it was announced that Fri, Apr 3 is the deadline for groups to apply for Access and Diversity Grants for the Pride parade, the Dyke March and the community fair.

The meeting also voted on the theme for Pride 2009. The winner was Can’t Stop: Won’t Stop. The other finalist was Believe.

Sandilands told the meeting the two finalists had been selected from other submissions entered by community members.

“The staff, board members, coordinators and volunteers at our annual retreat which was held in November narrowed it down to two,” she said.

The entrant who submitted the winning theme also submitted a written explanation.

“‘Can’t Stop: Won’t Stop’ tells everyone straight to the point no matter what you throw at us we as a community will never quit.”

Sandilands said that Pride will be issuing a call later in February for suggestions for parade marshals and honoured groups. Candidates will be voted on at a general meeting in March.

The meeting also saw the awarding of prizes from the 2008 parade. The winners were announced in July.

In the float and vehicle division the award for best art direction went to the National Gay Pilots; for best choreography to We Love Japan; for best costume design to the Thai Society of Ontario; for best musical/sound arrangement to the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention; for best embodiment of the queer community to the 519 Community Centre; and for best float to the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.

In the marching contingent division the award for best art direction went to the Engineering Society of the University of Toronto; for best choreography to Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps – Toronto; for best costume design to The Imperial Court of Toronto; for best musical/sound arrangement to Latino group Hola; for best embodiment of the queer community to the Department of National Defence Canadian Forces.

In the all-entrants division grand marshal Enza Anderson won for most absolutely fabulous individual, Asian Community AIDS Services won a special judges’ award for best drag and Pflag won a special judges’ award for best celebration of the theme.