After a tumultuous year of infighting, mudslinging, hand-wringing and demonstrating, Pride Toronto’s Community Advisory Panel met with the public for the first time Dec 2 to begin the process of gathering feedback on the future of the organization.
All the comments and questions collected from the panels will be used to make recommendations that will be presented to Pride Toronto (PT) in January or February. None of the recommendations will be binding on PT.
About 150 people were spread out over eight tables at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.
The questions started out quite general: “What does Pride mean to you?” and “Is Pride too corporate?” and “What values should guide Pride as it moves forward?”
But soon groups were asking questions of their own: Is Pride political or a celebration? Is it both? Should allies be included? What were the real facts surrounding Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA)? Why isn’t there more transparency with Pride? Why didn’t Pride release its audited financial statements at the annual general meeting?
Panel member Nichola Ward tells Xtra the first consultation session was enormously productive.
“As you can see there’s no blood on the floor,” Ward says. “The level of discussion has been insightful and intelligent. Some people are pissed off, obviously, but for the most part it’s about improving and moving forward.”
The meeting wasn’t without a bit of drama, however.
At the back of the room, a handful of people who didn’t want to be on camera or interviewed huddled together. When it came time for each group to present their summaries, Martin Gladstone spoke on behalf of the “media-free table,” but refused to take the microphone at the front of the room.
“Israel is a gay-rights leader, and we have a problem with hate groups being included in Pride,” he said. “We also take issue with a PT board member [Roy Mitchell] being here. It’s inappropriate.”
Gladstone, a Toronto lawyer and filmmaker, declined an interview with Xtra after the session.
Although PT staffers were asked not to attend the sessions, board member Roy Mitchell says he has every right to attend as a member of the community.
“I am not representing the board. I am a community member,” Mitchell tells Xtra. “A media-free table? I mean, it’s almost like the 1950s. What was great about this experience for most people is our community is they’re willing to go on record for what they think, and I’m willing to go on record, even though I was told I couldn’t be here.”
At another table, MPP Glen Murray found out that deaf issues have been left out of Pride discussions, and more thought should be put into making people with disabilities feel more welcome.
“There isn’t even a single question on the survey dealing with deaf issues,” Murray says.
Along with five consultation sessions, the community is encouraged to visit the Community Advisory Panel website and complete the online survey.
At another table, Dianne Moore said “allies” should be removed from the list of those included in Pride. Many clapped and agreed.
“Allies are important, but when they added the A, I didn’t think it was a good idea,” she says. “This is our Pride. The straight people have all sorts of places to celebrate. I really want our Pride parade to represent our community.”
At the same table, Tim McCaskell says Pride must respect the diversity in the community, and work to bring people together.
“Issues of survival, harassment and discrimination are much more acute today than when Pride started,” he says. “I think the issue that should guide Pride is for it to go out of its way to include the sectors of the community that are being squeezed out. And they are being squeezed out because they are not the people the corporations want to market to.”
The next panel session is Dec 4 at the Gladstone Hotel at 1214 Queen St W from 12:30pm to 2:30pm.