Pride Toronto says it couldn’t find a qualified executive director anywhere in Toronto, or even in Canada.
Following the departure of Fatima Amarshi in August, Pride has hired Tracey Sandilands from South Africa. Sandilands has been involved in Prides in Capetown and Johannesburg and is scheduled to take over in November, barring immigration problems.
Pride also has to hire a new associate director and arts and entertainment director after the recent departures of Adrienne DeFrancesco and Sara Malabar.
Pride cochair Mark Singh denies the resignations stem from any internal problems, but admits the departure of DeFrancesco, to take over public relations duties at Toronto charity Foodshare, and Malabar make things harder.
“There was that little moment of panic when Fatima left and then Adrienne announced she was leaving,” says Singh. “We all love her and she’s leaving on good terms, but it’s really unfortunate.”
Singh says the search committee found no qualified local candidates applying for the executive director position.
“We’ve been searching for close to nine months now,” he says. “We weren’t too pleased with the calibre of the candidates. At the end of August we started getting some quality resumés. [Sandilands] stood out.”
Singh admits that Sandilands will have to cram a lot of learning into a short time.
“When you’re hiring someone at that senior level you expect they’ll be able to learn quickly. It’s a matter of having a more intense orientation. The interesting position we’re in is there’s very few people in the world who’ve run a festival like ours, of our size and in our political context.”
Singh says that until Sandiland’s arrival, DeFrancesco will do some parttime work, but he’ll take on much of the work, as well as his fulltime job with the City of Toronto. He says people he’s talked to are pleased about the choice.
“People are just really happy for us,” he says. “The reaction has been very positive.”
Sandilands has never visited Canada but says she’s confident she can step into the position left vacant by Amarshi’s departure.
“What do they say, ‘Strangers are just friends you haven’t met?'” she says. “Everyone’s asking, ‘What if you don’t like it?’ I can’t imagine that. I’ve done a lot of research, I even have an idea of who I would vote for on Oct 14 and it wouldn’t be Stephen Harper.”
Sandilands says she, her wife and their two dogs — a border collie and a Siberian husky — were already thinking of moving to Canada to escape the crime and violence in South Africa.
“We had been thinking about Vancouver,” she says. “The weather, the coast, everyone in South Africa thinks of Vancouver. But I’m excited to be moving to Canada, even if it’s Toronto instead of Vancouver. We didn’t want to go anywhere that was more conservative. There’s also the huge diversity that is in Canada and especially in Toronto.”
Sandilands says the job excites her, comparing the opportunity to her work with the Triangle Project, a nonprofit community centre serving the gay and lesbian population in South Africa’s Western Cape, especially the poor.
“The time spent working at the Triangle Project was more meaningful than any other job I’ve had,” she says.
Sandilands says her background in Africa will also help Pride expand its international reach.
“Pride has a responsibility to be more visible internationally, maybe to take under its wing organizations in some of the countries struggling with LGBT rights,” she says. “I do come from Africa which is a hotbed of hate for LGBT people. Coming from a country where we really see what happens, I may have a better idea than people in Canada.”