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Pride Toronto nixes 2011 grand marshal honour

The community reacts with puzzled frustration

Tyler Johnson, Pride Toronto youth coordinator. Credit: Michael Erickson

UPDATE – MAY 22: There is no community grand marshal this year because the Pride Toronto board didn’t have time to select anyone, says board co-chair Francisco Alvarez.

But, he says, if the community feels strongly about having a local grand marshal, the board is willing to revisit the issue at the next meeting, on May 25.

“We figured there were other things that were priorities,” he tells Xtra. “So when the idea of the Inspire Awards came up, we decided to do something with them. We thought the winners of the Inspire Awards would have a prominent place in the parade.”

A panel of judges will vote on the winners of the Inspire Awards, Alvarez says. “The only person I know who is on the panel is our representative [PT board member] Chad Simon.”

Simon was unavailable for comment.

Alvarez says there’s no reason the Inspire Award winners and PT grand marshal can’t both be featured in the parade. “As I said, we had received the CAP report, and everything was just piling up, and we just tried to simplify things.

“If people feel strongly about it, I am willing to revisit the issue.”

MAY 21: Does the community really want to get rid of the Toronto Pride (PT) parade grand marshal?

That’s exactly what happened at a recent PT board meeting on May 11, a source on the board confirms to Xtra. The motion to not name a grand marshal for 2011 quietly passed with very little opposition.

Former board member Mark Smith is appealing to current board members to reconsider. After the Proud of Toronto event at city hall May 16 – where the students from “the unofficial” St Joe’s gay-straight alliance got a standing ovation – Smith wrote a letter to “a few select PT board members,” suggesting they name “Ontario GSA students” as grand marshal this year.

“Grand marshals showcase our history and provide a place for issues to be exposed to the larger community,” Smith says. “I am sure the past year, and the past 40 years, have produced heroes enough to keep Pride knee deep in grand marshals.”

“It’s a sign of detachment or sheer laziness by the board to ignore this vastly important Pride institution.”

PT board co-chair Francisco Alvarez did not respond to Xtra’s requests for interviews to explain the decision.

PT youth coordinator Tyler Johnson, who also confirmed the board’s decision, says it’s a big mistake. Naming a grand marshal costs the PT board nothing and has always been seen as a way to put the spotlight on a local issue and pay tribute to a person fighting for the cause, he says.

“The grand marshal builds community, and it’s an advocacy role,” he says. “I don’t understand this decision. This is not what the CAP report recommends.”

Johnson says the board will now recognize an honoured group, a youth honoured group and an honoured business.

“Those three positions will be selected by the Inspire Awards,” he says. “No one knows if two of those three awards will go to people. Also, is the LGBT Youth Line allowed to apply for business of the year? The answer so far is no…. To me, that’s unacceptable.”

The deadline to submit nominations for the Inspire Awards is May 25. The winners will be announced on June 16 at the awards gala at Casa Loma. Antoine Elhashem from the Inspire Awards could not be reached for comment.

In the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) report, released in February, it’s suggested that PT “use multiple forms of consultation around important decisions such as the date of Pride Week, the location of stages, new initiatives and the selection of grand marshals and honorees.”

PT has already announced Angie Umbac, a legal rights activist from the Philippines, as the 2011 international grand marshal. Activist Kim Koyama says the controversy around PT is still ongoing, so the world will be watching Toronto Pride this year. “This is not the time to be eliminating the local grand marshal.”

Trans activist Susan Gapka says she’s “disappointed” with PT’s decision.

“What is the rationale? Who has been consulted? Is another tradition lost? I feel disappointed,” she tells Xtra. “There are so many people struggling locally.”

Local teacher and former federal NDP candidate Michael Erickson says it’s important to recognize local leaders.

“We don’t have that many opportunities to celebrate local amazingness; why would we want to take one away?” he says.

Meanwhile, Johnson says more announcements will be made on June 4 at an all-ages event at Crews & Tangos from 4pm to 7pm. That’s when the honoured dyke and the “unofficial” youth grand marshal will be named, he says, adding, “The youth grand marshal is unofficial because the board hasn’t approved it yet, but I feel it’s necessary.”

Lawyer Doug Elliott says the honour of grand marshal should recognize a fierce advocate at the forefront of one of the year’s big fights. For him, the issues that have dominated the headlines this year have been Pride, trans rights and Catholic school GSAs.

“When George Hislop was chosen [grand marshal], I know it was deeply meaningful to him,” Elliott points out. “Saying thank you to a hero like him and highlighting great leadership is exactly what Pride should be about.”