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6 min

Pride left begging

City hall says no to $20k in first request

Credit: Pat Croteau

Pride as we’ve known it is on the verge of being cancelled, as Capital Xtra goes to press. City council will get a last chance Jun 29 to cough up the $20,000 that the Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee says is essential to pay the up-front costs of the festival, but board members aren’t holding their breaths.

The city’s corporate services and economic development committee failed to respond fully to an emergency-funding request from Pride on Jun 20. A request to forgive $16,425 that Pride owes the city for services last year was approved along with approval to provide in-kind services, including police and paramedic costs for the festival up to $13,810. As well, the city agreed that Pride could take its time — up to 10 years — to repay at no interest the $50,075 the city inherited when Pride defaulted on a guaranteed bank loan.

But the committee rejected a key component of the request — $20,000 in a “one-time emergency grant” to meet cash-flow requirements including a $15,000 insurance bill that must be paid before the Pride festivities begin. Only Coun Alex Cullen supported the cash grant. The mayor opposed it, noting that he was disappointed not to see a full business plan — something that Pride treasurer Gordon Boissonneault says the city never asked for but will get at the Jun 27 meeting.

Other councillors, including Janet Stavinga, Rainer Bloess, Rick Chiarelli, Peter Hume Maria McRae and Rob Jellett repeatedly voted against sections of the Pride request.

“We are deeply disappointed,” said Pride treasurer Gordon Boissonneault after the vote. “The board’s going to meet to see if it’s feasible to go on with Pride this year.”

Also not approved was a request that the city’s auditor take a close look at Pride’s books from 2002 to 2005 to see if there was any financial mismanagement.

The city committee’s decision contrasted with emergency funding grants given earlier this year to organizations in almost identical circumstances to Pride. The Tulip Festival got a $75,000 emergency bailout grant in April, while the Franco-Ontarien festival got $50,000 in emergency funding.

Pride received a $1,000 city arts grant this year. In contrast, some music festivals received grants as high as over $100,000.

“Somewhere along the way we have to draw the line,” said Coun Bloess. He said that in hindsight it might not have been a good idea to give bailout money to the Tulip Festival and the Franco-Ontarien festival.

The committee’s recommendations require council approval Jun 29. Pride is using the opportunity to ask one more time for the $20,000 in cash, in a motion to be introduced by Coun Diane Holmes.

“It’s quite possible” that Pride will be cancelled this year, Boissonneault says.

Board members have requested the community contact city councillors to lobby for the $20,000 grant, and to attend the Jun 29 council meeting in support (the meeting is in the main council chambers; the Pride request will likely be dealt with sometime in the afternoon).

This is the 20th anniversary of Ottawa Pride and a major blowout was expected for the Aug 21 to Aug 27 festivities. And while some queers send e-mails asking what the community should do if Pride is cancelled, the importance of the visibility that Pride brings is undisputed.

“Visibility itself is still important in Canada,” says David Rayside, director of the Centre For Sexual Diversity Studies at the University Of Toronto. Although Canadians are well ahead compared to other nations, there is still work to do to secure queer rights and recognition of queer cultures.

It’s becoming important for all types of organizations to demonstrate their gay-friendliness by participating in local Pride festivities, says Rayside in an interview before the Jun 25 Toronto Pride attracted an estimated million participants and observers. “There’s a new kind of representation every year,” he says. Last year, Toronto’s police chief participated in the city’s parade for the first time. Doing so, he made it clear that his service would ensure the protection of Toronto’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans citizens.

Somerset councillor Diane Holmes recognizes that Ottawa-Gatineau Pride is twice as important because it’s the nation’s capital. “It’s important for Ottawa to be seen as a gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans friendly city,” she says.

There are clear economic advantages to the city in supporting the largest annual queer celebration, says Holmes. She says she believes in Richard Florida’s urban regeneration theory, which shows that gay-friendly cities are more creative — and attract future-oriented businesses.

In his 2002 bestselling book, The Rise Of The Creative Class, urban economist Florida challenges the belief that weather, cheap land, and low taxes brought prosperity to US cities. In order to attract high technology industries, he argues that cities must create an environment that attracts creative people, is rich in culture and entertainment options and is tolerant. Florida found a close match between cities that are supportive of their gay community and cities that are economically viable.

The importance of Pride goes beyond the economic benefits to the city, Holmes says.

“Over many years, [Pride] has strengthened the community,” she says. “It ensures all human rights of the community are guaranteed.”

Pride is a combination of three festivals — the city’s largest parade, an arts and cultural fête and a celebration of human rights, council was told Jun 20. Yet, city hall has granted only $7,000 to the festival since 1992, while the Chamber Music Festival has received $432,000 in the same period.

This year, the city sets aside $626,000 for fairs and special events. They granted Pride $1,000 and then took it back and applied it against previous debt.

In a presentation to the committee, Boissonneault and Pride vice-chair Tamara Stammis blamed past Pride boards for creating the financial mess, and conceded there could be possible financial wrongdoing in the past. By last fall, Pride had an accumulated debt of $206,000. After offering creditors 25 cents on the dollar, that had been reduced to $137,000 by May.

Boissonneault also laid blame on the city’s queer community and businesses. This year’s target of $40,000 in sponsorship has not been reached. After sending a sponsorship package to 100 local and national organizations, the committee has secured only $13,000 in sponsorship to date. A request to Gatineau council for funding has been rejected.

The detailed financial plan presented to council included charging $5 at the door ($3 in advance) to all revellers at Festival Plaza this year. It will come as a shock for a community used to free services, said Boissonneault, but this is part of managing an indebted festival.

If Pride is cancelled and the committee declares bankruptcy, city hall would not get back the $50,075 now outstanding.

But Boissonneault told city politicians that Pride is doing its best to stay afloat and honour at least a portion of its debts.

Funding issues are not limited to Ottawa’s Pride — though the perennial lack of city support is almost unique for a city this size.

“It’s a money fight for the public funds,” says Divers/Cité’s director Suzanne Girard. “There’s no money falling from the sky,” she says.

With Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver councils giving strong support — $25,000 to $100,000 annually — to their festival, Ottawa finds itself in league with Alberta’s biggest city.

Pride Calgary didn’t ask money to the city, or even the province of Alberta, according to Pride Calgary’s cochair Tamrin Hildebrandt, because of the “conservative province and city.”

Pride Calgary is funded through sponsorships, dance tickets, beer sale and private donations.

The city’s lack of support Jun 20 drew community criticism.

Ottawa resident Richard Cannon says it’s important to make the community even more visible through Pride. “The presence has to be known. People have to accept [others’] individuality,” he says.

Adds Ottawa resident Michèle Miller: “The big metropolises have one, and we’re always trying to grow Ottawa to this exposure. It’s one more thing that adds to Ottawa’s community and events.”

Tanya Osiowy also lives in Ottawa and she says that it would be “really sad if [Pride] was cancelled or nobody wanted to participate.” She says it’s important for Ottawa to recognize all its communities, and supporting Pride is one example of recognizing diversity.

Rayside, at the Centre For Sexual Diversity Studies, says he doubts Pride will disappear.

“It would get recreated in some form,” he says.

Like the Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras. After that organization went bankrupt in 2002, a new body took over and revived the celebration, although on a smaller scale.

In an interview to the Sydney Morning Herald, the committee chair said the festival’s successful comeback was due to the 1,200 dedicated volunteers who put time and effort into it.

Canadian Prides will need this kind of dedication if they want to stay alive, says Rayside. “It’s not unique to Pride,” he says, but getting volunteers and retaining them is “part of the difficulty in organizing a major Pride.”

Volunteers bring all types of skills to an organization, but Toronto’s Pride Week cochair Natasha Garda says professionals are always very sought-after, because they know what to do when it comes time to write a grant proposal or to draft a budget.

“The role of a volunteer is a very important role,” she says.

In the days following the city committee’s decision, emails circulated in the local queer community suggested going ahead with some sort of celebration if Ottawa-Gatineau Pride throws in the towel. A sidewalk protest against city hall’s systemic discrimination could replace the parade, noted one suggestion. Another suggested that queers descend on city hall’s Festival Plaza and throw an impromptu party on Aug 27. So long as there was no formal organization, city hall would have nowhere to send any bills for clean-up and services.