Opinion
5 min

Questions about the ‘new and improved’ Capital Pride

What is old is new again, and still not good enough

The new and improved Capital Pride is looking to be a lot of the same. Credit: Ben Welland

The Capital Pride Advisory Committee (CAC)  released the names of its festival producer and other members of the operational committee on April 17.  The list came as a surprise for some — after constant reassurances from Tammy Dopson that no one from the previous Capital Pride board would be involved with the new group, many familiar faces have returned.

Brodie Fraser, who was last year’s sponsorship and fundraising coordinator, will lead sponsorship again; Ashley Blackwood, who ran last year’s community fair, is this year’s community coordinator; Andrea Guilbault was site coordinator last year, and this year will use that experience as the assistant events coordinator; and Tova Larsen returns as the parade coordinator.

I attended the community consultation meeting in January with the intention of becoming involved with the re-build of Capital Pride, only to find out that things were well under way and that club memberships were sold out. Call me bitter if you must, but I believe this community is losing a great opportunity to create a festival for all queer lives in Ottawa and their intersections. From the beginning, this group appears to have made a conscious decision to not involve the community.

I understand the group’s rationale — it needed to act quickly in order to secure funds — but by not allowing people to join and contribute when it initially expressed its intent to allow for that, it has created something that is is not representative of a welcoming and “community based” group.

Fraser, in the absence Dopson, was the spokesperson for this group in the January meeting. “In terms of people joining the committee, we aren’t looking for the warriors still at this point, what we want, ultimately, is a festival operations committee that is representative of the community as much as possible, and much of the work that the community advisory committee will do from now until the [festival operations] committee is formed is reaching out as broadly as possibly to ensure the voices that felt they weren’t heard tonight are going to be heard,” he said.

In an interview with the Ottawa Sun on March 28, Dopson said that “the intent is not to exclude anyone.” The selection process for the CAC doesn’t reflect that view. I read and re-read the job postings both on the Capital Pride Facebook page and the BIA’s website, and  in every single one of the volunteer positions, candidates would have to consent to a valid police record check (vulnerable sector). If that is not exclusionary, well, I don’t know what it is.

What the CAC would seem to lack is the understanding that queer people have different lives, different intersections. Members of this community may have lived on the streets or struggled with drugs and other addictions for years, and now may want to volunteer with Pride — a police check would make that impossible. What if this particular community member got arrested for a fight? For possession? For working in the sex industry?  Would they even be considered for a position with the operational committee if they exist in a police database?

A lot of people won’t even think about applying simply because they are aware their background check will flag any encounters with police or jail time they may have done. But this is a community where, barely even 35 years ago, people were being arrested for being gay — and still today, members of our community are arrested for walking while trans. Black queers are targeted by the police, not for being queer, but because of the colour of their skin. Sex workers can be queers too, and they also are a target. The chances of a queer person living within these intersections and of having a record are much higher than the average queer government worker. Who are we catering to again? A large spectrum of the community? I don’t think so.

In Ontario, there are only two situations where a criminal background check (vulnerable sector) is demanded by law: if you are working with the Ministry of Community and Social Services with persons with developmental disabilities, or if you are applying for a job with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or any of their licensees. I myself work in the vulnerable sector, with children, and yet, I am still not required by law to provide a criminal background check to work as an independent daycare provider.

Capital Pride is not required by law to request a criminal check from their volunteers, especially a vulnerable sector check. It is also relevant to add that this is a new process  for Capital Pride; in previous years only people volunteering with youth and children were requested to provide a criminal background check.

Criminal background checks are particularly difficult for the trans community. In order to apply for one, they must provide their name and their sex as assigned at birth. You read that right: in order to volunteer with Capital Pride, members of the trans community must agree to disclose the name they were given before transitioning. This is how Capital Pride Ottawa is welcoming “everyone” to contribute; putting up walls which leave a great part of the community out!

I was a little offended to be called a vocal minority in Daily Xtra — I do not believe this community has been given ample opportunities to express their needs, and a lot of us have shown and expressed how unsatisfied we are with how things are being done by the CAC. The community consultation was supposed to be the time for the community to be heard. Instead, we arrived to find that the CAC was formed, the proposal was written and there was nothing left to do, other than “show our support.”

So when I was called a vocal minority it got me thinking: Am I really? I am still trying to pinpoint when did community members had an opportunity to address their concerns. The community consultation was an utter fiasco, maybe we should have all emailed Tammy Dopson and asked her directly what is the proposal? No, really, what is the proposal?

I have not seen a mission statement from the board yet. I know a document was presented to City Hall and that it was approved. Apparently it’s good, seeing as how Capital Pride is receiving over $30,000 of funding for the festival — but has anyone outside of the CAC read it? What are the policies governing the development of the festival? What values will be upheld by the operations committee? I wasn’t allowed to join in to help create these policies, and I am still waiting for them to be released; how can I support a festival if I do not know its core, fundamental values?

I want to see the CAC and operations committee take mandatory anti-oppression workshops. I want to see Capital Pride recognizing that this festival is held on unceded Algonquin territory, that #BlackLivesMatter, that some of us are undocumented immigrants, that  queers in the sex trade need us to have their backs — not just so that they can get married, but so that they can work legally.

Mauricio Olivares, Capital Pride’s festival producer, in an interview with Daily Xtra, said, “We can’t leave our transgender brothers and sisters left behind. We need to unify . . . we also need to remember that other brothers and sisters around the world are suffering, for example in Africa and Russia and places where they don’t have the rights and benefits that we enjoy in Canada.”

Yes, we do need to keep watch for those people who do not have the rights and benefits that we enjoy in Canada, but it is easy to forget that not all queer lives in Canada benefit from the same status quo. We are not just queer,  gay  or trans; there are no amount of gay weddings that will change the fact that all oppression is connected and there is a lot more work to be done at home — not just Bill C-279, but jobs, homelessness, health, status, justice system and so much more. It is time for us to talk about how ours lives intersect, and celebrate those intersections! It is time for us to learn where our privileges lie, and how we can be accountable to those who don’t share them.