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Pride Toronto facing sharp criticism ahead of AGM

Community members express concerns that only one woman nominated for election to board

Lluvia Ruelas expressed concern that only one woman is running for the Pride Toronto board. Credit: Andrea Houston

Members of Pride Toronto (PT) were grilled about the organization’s lack of diversity Oct 17 following the release of the list of five candidates running for three open board seats.

“It seems like 90 percent of the board are cis, white men,” Lluvia Ruelas told the board at the meeting. She and others question why only one woman is being recommended for election to the board. 
 
“How does that always happen? What exactly are you looking for? You need a law degree? An accounting degree? What about a single mother with three kids?”
 
The meeting was set up by organizers of the Dyke March to seek clarity on bylaw changes ahead of Pride Toronto's AGM on Oct 24. 
 
There are currently six men and four women on PT's board. This includes Susan Gapka, a trans woman, and Kerry Bell, a woman of colour. The new members will replace former board member Roy Mitchell, who quit in January, and Evan Dean, a board member since 2010 who has reached the end of his term and decided not to seek reelection.
 
Former co-chair Francisco Alvarez left PT abruptly on Oct 14. Alvarez, who has declined Xtra's repeated interview requests, sent Xtra a statement in which he criticizes the board for its lack of gender representation. He asks, Why “is only one woman being recommended on the slate of candidates for election to the board at the AGM?”
 
The candidates include Aaron GlynWilliams, Trini Mitra, Dave Mossman, Dana Suvagau and Chris Tremeer. (Read their biographies below.)
 
“It is perverse that in this broad community there is only one acceptable woman,” says Nicki Ward. “That is absurd.”
 
Co-chair Sean Hillier tells Xtra that it’s wrong to speculate on gender, ethnicity or class background before meeting the candidates. “Outside of a 250-word biography, no one has actually met the candidates . . . I think that’s pre-judging.”
 
GlynWilliams, who says he is a gay Torontonian with a mixed-race background, is the only candidate who responded to Xtra’s request for comment. He is part of the organizing committee for the Toronto 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games (TO2015). 
 
“I think diversity is crucial,” GlynWilliams says. “This is a major marquee organization in the city, and it’s important that the organization is representative of the community it serves. I know the organization has taken steps to be more representative in recent years, and they continue to do so, but it’s also important that there be a solid set of skills that can serve the organization.”
 
But community members at the Oct 17 meeting told PT executive director Kevin Beaulieu and board members Susan Gapka, Mark Smith, Paul Saguil, Shelley Craig and co-chair Sean Hillier that the board should focus less on finance and more on community building.
 
Jade Gardiner says that most of the current board members and potential board members have legal, business and finance backgrounds. She suggests the board start thinking outside the box. “By looking for specific professions, like lawyers and accountants, you are discriminating against people,” she says. “By that very nature you are excluding those not from class and privileged backgrounds.”
 
Many felt that the organization’s bylaws should mandate a diversity ratio, or “affirmative action,” for the board to increase access for women, people of colour, trans people and other minority groups.
 
“I won’t vote for the bylaws until there is a commitment to diversity,” says Dyke March committee member Meg Fenway.
 
Fenway reminded the board that the community advisory panel (CAP) report suggested the board make a greater effort to foster diversity for all PT staff, volunteers, board directors and sponsors. 
 
Released in 2011 following a series of community consultation sessions, the sweeping report covered everything from finances to entertainment. A significant portion of the report is dedicated to repairing rifts between PT, the trans community and people of colour. 
 
And Hillier admitted the board has struggled “with bringing people in from different backgrounds.”
 
Beaulieu says the board received 31 resumés this year.
 
Even though all resumés are screened anonymously, Craig says PT still struggles every year to recruit minority voices to run for board positions. She says board members are looking for people who bring a combination of “experience and skills” with a “tenacity to take a beating.”
 
“We had a lot of people apply, so that means we’re not doing something right,” she says. “It seems the organization is constantly in flux. I completely agree [about the lack of diversity]. We need to work harder.”
 
Aanya Francis, who attended the meeting, wonders why the wider community is shut out of the screening process for potential board members. “I think this board should be representative of the community, and right now it’s not,” she says.
 
Involving the community in the screening process is one of the recommendations in the CAP report: “Establish a board development committee consisting of one or two current board representatives and a majority of community leaders to fill the current vacancies on the Pride Toronto Board.”
 
Hillier says this has been implemented, but he did not know which “community leaders” sit on the committee. 
 
Meanwhile, attendees also expressed concerns about PT's bylaws. Dyke March team lead Laura Krahn says a sliding scale for membership has been requested in previous years. It would make membership available to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. The fee will be fixed at $10.
 
“Overall, the bylaws do not empower the membership and do not demonstrate the importance of inclusion and representation of our diverse queer and trans communities,” a statement released by the Dyke March committee says. “Instead, the bylaws maintain the status quo of the board’s hierarchal governance, perpetuating a lack of accountability and transparency.”
 
The bylaws — which will be put to a vote at the AGM — were updated so they could be brought in line with Ontario’s Not-for-Profit Corporations Act, Hillier says. 
 
“We will be moving into WorldPride after this, so things will be very busy,” he says. “We were trying to be proactive by getting them complete and passed.”
 
Hillier says the board will continue to listen to the concerns from the community, including at the upcoming AGM.
 
“We’re here, and we hear what you are saying,” he says. “It’s enlightening. Are the bylaws perfect? No. Will they ever be perfect? I don’t think so.”

Candidates seeking election to the Pride Toronto board (Courtesy of Pride Toronto)

Aaron GlynWilliams

GlynWilliams is a self-proclaimed Toronto "booster" who believes in building communities through strong partnerships and effective stakeholder relations. He speaks French and has a BA from the University of Toronto.

GlynWilliams began his career as an assistant to a Toronto councillor and spent two years as a policy and outreach advisor to the minister of municipal affairs and housing. He has spent the last three years with the Toronto 2015 Pan American & Parapan American Games (TO2015).

As a senior member of TO2015’s public affairs team, GlynWilliams serves as the point of contact for 22 levels of government, including all of Toronto City Council. He has developed strong relationships with government and become a trusted representative of a once-in-a-lifetime event.

While working with TO2015, GlynWilliams spearheaded an effort to bring together 13 different queer organizations in the city around the creation of a Pride House during the Pan Am Games.

GlynWilliams also brings considerable experience in grassroots program and volunteer development, working across diverse communities. He has developed a number of youth programs in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, was a DiverseCity fellow with Civic Action, and worked with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to develop its youth-engagement strategy.

GlynWilliams has firsthand experience with the unique challenges and opportunities that a major event can present for our region and how to maintain partnerships that maximize its potential. He says he is honoured to be seeking the responsibility of serving as a member of the Pride Toronto board of directors.

Trini Mitra

Mitra was raised in India and earned his master's degree in accounting from the University of Calcutta. He worked in various multinational companies there before immigrating to Canada in 2004. He is the finance manager of Opera Atelier, a prestigious period opera and ballet company in Toronto. He believes that his years of experience in the arts community, by virtue of his current position and his former employment at the Canadian Opera Company, make him one of those fortunate ones who can blend their interest in the arts with the expertise of numbers.

Mitra has benefited immensely from the support he's received from Toronto’s LGBTQ community and would like to pay his tribute in his own way back to the community. He brings his financial acumen as well as a wealth of international experience to the table. As an integral part of the senior management team at Opera Atelier, reporting to the executive director and finance and audit committee, his skills and competencies include preparation and analysis of financial statements, budgets and forecasts and key business indicator reports for recommendation and approval by the board and government granting organizations.

Mitra enjoys fine arts, conversations, communication and interaction with people, apart from problem solving. He is a vocal musician trained in Indian classical and contemporary music. He is also an active member of the thriving Indian community in Toronto.

Mitra has served as a treasurer on the board of directors for the Canadian Art Song Project (CASP).

His sensitivity to people, keen observation power and ability for emotive expression stand him in good stead for a position of influence.

Dave Mossman

Mossman is a seasoned event planner who has overseen events for large organizations and not-for-profits, such as Easter Seals Ontario, Special Olympics Ontario, the Canadian Cancer Society, McMaster University and the University of Guelph. Mossman’s biggest achievement was being the coordinator of the 2011 Special Olympics Ontario Winter Games. Most recently, he started his own national event management company, Mossman Events, planning events for not-for-profits, corporations and individuals.

Mossman received a BA in mathematics and French, a BEd Intermediate/Senior and a certificate in event management. Even though his career path changed from teaching high school math to event coordination, Mossman has developed a motivational campaign that will be launching in high schools across Canada, called This is Me, which inspires students to be proud of who they are, to accept others, and to use their individuality to contribute to their community in a positive way. The campaign stems from his experiences coming out in Northern Ontario as a gay male.

Mossman has attended Pride for two years as a participant but would like to take the leap to the board of directors to use his skills, knowledge and experiences in event management, as well as his passion for the queer community, to ensure a memorable WorldPride and to continue its legacy in the Toronto area for years to come.

Dana Suvagau

Dana Suvagau was born in Timisoara, Romania. She earned her LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in 2007. During her final year, she participated in the Aboriginal Lands, Resources and Governments Intensive at Osgoode, a program that explores legal issues relating to indigenous people and indigenous rights. She also completed an honours baccalaureate in social sciences with a specialization in criminology from the University of Ottawa.

Suvagau has pursued a career in public service working for the Office of the Correctional Investigator in Ottawa and most recently as a staff lawyer with Legal Aid Ontario. Her commitment to providing advocacy for marginalized people led her to pursue a career in social justice and to seek opportunities within the Toronto community to protect and sustain diversity.

Suvagau currently sits on the board of Octavia Films, a non-profit organization that serves to address the gender disparity in film by supporting a new generation of aspiring young women who seek viable careers as filmmakers.

As a board member for Pride Toronto, Suvagau’s experience and skills will allow her to connect with diverse members of the community in order to foster partnerships and develop member engagement.

Chris Tremeer

Toronto’s Pride Week festival played an important role in Tremeer’s personal development and coming out as gay (a 20-year saga he is happy to share). Tremeer brings a variety of unique personal perspectives to every conversation, including “recently out” and “gay parent.” Tremeer is committed to finding ways to support members of the queer communities to celebrate their sexuality and to support people coming out.

At work, Tremeer is the director of corporate services and project management at the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. Tremeer has extensive experience in financial management, board governance, government relations, fund development and stakeholder management for not-for-profit organizations.

In the community, Tremeer has served recently on two volunteer boards. As a board member with Kindle Communities Organization (2008–2013), Tremeer worked to develop properties and provide socially responsible rental properties to not-for-profit organizations serving at-risk children and families. As president of the St Joseph’s Guelph Rehabilitation Corp board of directors (2009–2013), Tremeer assisted this new organization through the strategic and operational plan development.

When not at work or volunteering, Tremeer enjoys time at the beach, volleyball with the Toronto Spartan League, time at the gym, photography, and playing with daughters Kyla and Julie. Tremeer is excited to have this opportunity to refocus his volunteer efforts in support of Toronto’s queer communities. Tremeer is committed to representing the views of the members and volunteers during WorldPride 2014 and beyond WorldPride to make the Pride Toronto festival the premier Pride event.