3 min

Pride Toronto promises consultation with trans community… in August

Organizers scramble on trans file amid dissent

“There seems to be a lot of confusion about what’s going on with the trans-related events at Pride, and with the Trans March. And no one in the trans community seems to know anything about it.” So says Savannah Garmon, a volunteer with the Trans Inclusion group, a subgroup of the Women and Trans Centre at the University of Toronto.

To air their concerns, Garmon and fellow volunteers co-wrote a letter and sent it by email on May 6 to Tracey Sandilands and the Pride Toronto board members.

“We basically asked what’s going on. In particular, we brought up the idea that there should be some sort of community consultation event between Pride and the trans community.”

Sandilands’ May 14 email reply indicated that one would be held — on Aug 12.

“So it’s going to be after Pride. I guess their thinking is to try and sort of fix it for next year. Nothing’s going to happen before Pride 2010, I think that’s clear.”

Sandilands did not respond to calls for comment.

Ayden Scheim, who works in trans health promotion, is additionally concerned about Pride’s partnership with a group called Xpressions to create TransSpace, a new trans community space initiative.

“I’ve heard of Xpressions before but never met anyone in the group. They seem to be a predominantly white and definitely rich group of crossdressers and trans women — which is fine. I’m sure they do important and necessary things, but they speak to a very narrow segment of the community.”

Scheim says that Pride contacted him two weeks ago for help with trans community involvement because of concerns about Xpressions’ lack of broader outreach.

“I was honest and said, ‘I am quite surprised you just realized this now, because if you’d bothered to do community consultations months ago, people would have told you it was problematic to work with only this group and recommended other groups then.’ It’s frustrating and upsetting and offensive to be contacted at this stage in the game. If I have to tell you in June that you should probably talk to The 519 or the Sherbourne Health Centre, somebody’s not doing their job.”

Nik Redman, who co-programmed the TransAction stage at Pride 2008 and 2009, says, “This year I had offered a couple of times to help and asked in passing what’s going on with the trans stage and Trans March, but I was put off and wasn’t given any feedback.”

He says he was contacted by potential performers but had to tell them he didn’t know who had taken over.

“About two months ago, I got an email from [Pride coordinators] Mary [Zondanos] and [DJ] TK asking if I knew any local people who could be on stage. I asked, ‘Who do you have on the stage, if you don’t have local people?’” Redman says he also expressed his dismay at the lack of people of colour, trans women and genderqueer performers in the lineup.

Redman says he was later recruited by Zahra Dhanani, creator of Pride’s FunkAsia event, for help in gaining trans community involvement for FunkAsia’s new incarnation as a Trans March afterparty called Trans-Form-Nation.

Still, he says, “I have yet to get an answer from Pride about who’s organizing the Trans March or even the trans stage. There’s definitely not a lot of clarity.”

Pride Toronto’s arts and entertainment programming coordinator, TK, who co-programmed the TransVerse stage, responds: “At the time we were having a discussion about the lack of trans women on the stage, but I think we’ve rectified that now. I’ve actually done a lot of community outreach.”

Among others, she mentions poet Andrea Jenkins, a trans woman of colour, and DJ CPI from Ottawa, as well as performers Jennifer Leitham and Honey Dijon, who are slated to perform on other stages.
“I think the trans stage will be much larger, attract more people, and be good for trans visibility. We’re moving from a smaller space at George Hislop and a smaller stage to a large venue. The Trans March is going to be significantly larger this year. And the TransSpace, with four 10’ x 10’ tents, is largely community defined, with lots of community health information, political messaging and more.”

TK says Xpressions approached Pride with the TransSpace idea, not the reverse. “We did receive some criticism,” she admits, but since then, “we’ve been reaching out very actively to a lot of groups, about 35 that I’ve personally been in touch with.”

As for the Trans March, TK says that Luka Sidaravicius, who coordinated Pride 2009’s Fruit Loopz Youth Stage, “has just come on recently as the Trans March coordinator.”

In short, says TK, “I think it’s probably the best year for trans visibility at Pride, honestly.”

The Trans March rallies at Church and Hayden on Fri, July 2 at 7pm (the march starts at 8). TransVerse at the South Stage (Church and Wood) is from 7pm onward. The Funkasia/Trans-Form-Nation Afterparty starts at 10 pm at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, 410 Sherbourne St. $10–15. TransSpace runs Sat, July 3 and Sun, July 4, location TBA.