In a stunning about-face Tracey Sandilands, Pride Toronto’s new executive director, says she wants to withdraw a series of seemingly benign comments she made to Xtra in December. She says this paper is out to get Pride and that her organization will no longer grant interviews to Toronto’s gay press.
In a reader comment posted to a story, New Pride ED Calls for Better Planning, on Xtra.ca, Sandilands writes, “I’m fairly dissatisfied with this article and feel that my comments have been taken out of context and misquoted in several places.”
But the context of Sandilands’ comments is of a light-hearted, hour-plus, face-to-face interview recorded on tape between her and this reporter in December.
After reading her comment Xtra contacted Sandilands to follow up. She admitted that she was not misquoted but says her words were somehow still misrepresented.
“I just believe that they were deliberately presented in a negative light and they were not as fully presented as they could have been,” she says. “Some things were taken out of context and if things had been presented exactly as I said them it would probably not have been a problem because I don’t deny saying any of those things, I just deny saying them the way they were presented.”
Sandilands says she is disappointed, for example, that Xtra reported that she regards Pride — one of the world’s largest gay Pride celebrations — as a gay party.
In the original article Sandilands said, “Pride Toronto is just a party, a gay party.”
“Actually we’re much more than that and we want to be seen as much more than that,” she says. “I really can’t remember my exact words from a month ago but I’m quite certain that I don’t believe that Pride is just a gay party.”
Secondly, Sandilands says she is unsatisfied with her comments about Pride Toronto’s 2008 effort to take a political stand on international human rights issues. Last year was the first year Pride included a special human rights component in its program.
“The plan wasn’t fully developed last year, they probably just tried to have a bit of a focus on something,” she told Xtra in the original story.
“I don’t really believe I dismissed last year’s efforts to create human rights,” she says. “I think the discussion, if I remember correctly, around that was that we did do some stuff on human rights last year but it’s nowhere near the effort where we want to go in those terms.”
Sandilands also says she objects that Xtra asked her if she thought gay Pride was moving too far away from sex and open expressions of homosexuality.
“It may well be something we should look at,” she said in the original story. “If it is the case, why is it the case? Is it because we’re afraid to offend the mainstream public? Is it because we’re trying to fit in? Is it because we’re just being respectful of other peoples’ beliefs and preferences?”
Sandilands says the story made it sound as if she raised the issue of sex among homosexuals at gay Pride herself, and that she objects to the suggestion that she might have brought the matter up.
“I remember very clearly that point was raised by you and not by me,” she says. “You asked the question, I was taken by surprise. I said, ‘Well, have we? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a good point.’ I don’t believe I asked the question in the first place.”
In fact, every single comment Sandliands made during the interview was in response to questions posed by Xtra.
Sandilands says she has had numerous phone calls about what she said in the article and that people at Pride tell her Xtra does not support the organization.
“From what I hear this is not the first time this has happened with Xtra,” she says. “It seems to be a pattern. I’m surprised because I was under the impression that Xtra is a gay publication and that you’re there to inform the gay community, not necessarily to slate [slag] the organizations that are trying to do something for the gay community. My understanding is that nobody at Pride is surprised that once again we’ve had a knife stuck in our backs.”
Sandilands says the Pride Toronto board of directors has approved a new policy to no longer provide interviews to Xtra.
“I’m not going to run the risk of being in this position again,” she says. “I’ve cleared this with the board, we’ll be giving no more interviews to Xtra from here on. There are enough other media out there who are not out to get us.”
Matt Mills, editorial director of the Xtra papers and fab magazine, says it’s ridiculous to suggest that Xtra is out to get Pride.
“It’s absurd,” he says. “Xtra, in fact the whole of Pink Triangle Press [which publishes Xtra], has been a supporter of Pride celebrations across the country since its inception with editorial support, advertising sponsorship support and even direct financial support in at least one case.”
Mills says the original article explored honest concerns Toronto’s gay and lesbian communities have about Pride and was conceived as an opportunity for a new and unknown executive director to speak to those issues and introduce herself to Xtra’s readers.
“Xtra endeavors to ask the questions that people are asking on the street,” he says. “We wouldn’t be doing any service to our readers if we wrote an endless stream of puff pieces about how Pride Toronto is an unblemished picture of perfection. Our object is to effect positive change and ensure community organizations are transparent and accountable to gay and lesbian people. There was nothing raised in the article you wouldn’t hear echoed on Church St any day the of the week. The story was strong and accurate.”
Mills says he’s dismayed and disappointed that Sandilands has decided not to speak to Xtra reporters.
“It’s unfortunate that she’s choosing to alienate our readers by not speaking to us in the future,” he says. “I hope she reconsiders. It’s unfortunate as well that she spoke so frankly and openly initially, but that after a few cranky phone calls and consultation with the Pride board of directors she apparently chose to retract statements that seem so reasonable. I wonder why she did that.”