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Pride Toronto shakes things up

New voices and identities bring their experience to Pride’s board

(L-R) Returning member Rachel Lauren Clark joins first-timers Evan Kirkman, Phil Villeneuve, Michelle Cherny and Biko Beauttah on the Pride Toronto board of directors. Credit: Andrew Jacome

Pride Toronto is looking to shake things up in 2016, and it’s starting with new, diverse additions to the already existing board of directors.

Daily Xtra sat down with the four new faces and one returning member that make up the newly elected members who will join the current board. Biko Beauttah, Michelle Cherny, Evan Kirkman, Phil Villeneuve and returning member Rachel Lauren Clark were elected to the board during Pride’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Oct 22, 2015

(Editor’s note: Phil Villeneuve is Daily Xtra’s arts editor. Since announcing his candidacy for the Pride Toronto board of directors, he is no longer involved in any editorial matters, decisions or coverage relating to Pride Toronto.)

They will be joining current board members Aaron GlynWilliams, Alica Hall, Chris Tremeer, Carolynn Gludish, Michael Mirpuri, Dana Suvagau and Tatum Wilson.

“I wanted to return to continue doing the good work we’ve been doing,” Clark says. As the only re-elected member, she is also enthusiastic that the new members will get along with the old guard. “We have great chemistry,” Clark says of the board. “We get along well, and I think we can continue it.”

Clark is joined by Beauttah and Kirkman in making one of the most trans inclusive boards Pride Toronto has ever had. “I don’t think there’s ever been a trans male voice represented, and I’m eager to bring that point of view to the table,” Kirkman says. “I want to be a conduit [on the board] for members who are like me.”

Beauttah, as a trans woman of colour, echoes his sentiment of being a new, unique voice for Pride. “People like me, immigrants . . . marginalized people are often demonized,” she says. “I’m excited to be here.”

“Diversity is something we’re always looking to improve on,” Cherny adds. That message is reflected in the way Pride is now communicating, too: its five-year plan makes careful note to not mention “LGBT” or any acronym that stands for sexual and gender identities. “It seems like you would be losing something by dropping the acronym, but really you’re just inviting more people in,” she says.

Villeneuve agrees with the change. “And it’s Pride,” he adds. “People know what Pride is for and what it celebrates.”

Opting for different language was just one of the logistic changes unveiled during Pride’s AGM: 2016 will see the parade move back a week to the July long weekend, and Pride itself will take place during an entire month, rather than its usual 10-day span. 

“There’s more time to do everything,” Cherny says of the expansion. “Not everything has to be crammed in together now. We all know the feeling of rushing to see everything in 10 days.”

Announcing changes like these is the kind of open communication Pride is hoping to attain with the community. “I would say transparency is the biggest thing I would change [with Pride], but I can see that it’s already happening,” Villeneuve says. “There are a lot of things in the works, talks we’re planning to have, ways to bring people into the conversation.”

And there have been efforts. Before the board was elected, a trans community group forum was held, where the general consensus was that Trans Pride should operate independently from Pride Toronto.

“We try to be inclusive of everyone,” Clark says. “There were over 5,000 people at this year’s trans march. I’m only one person, and not all of those people were at that meeting. What we try to do here is serve everyone, as best as we can.”

Despite being mostly new faces to the Pride team, there is one thing the newly elected board members are sure of: next year’s Pride will be one to remember. “[During WorldPride] I remember being in the rain, looking up, and then seeing that double rainbow in the sky . . . I knew I wanted this to be my home,” Beauttah says. “I hope everyone can have as good of a time as I did that day.”