Tracey Sandilands took over as Pride Toronto’s executive director on Dec 1 when planning for the 2009 Pride celebration should already have been well underway. After a rocky start, she told Xtra on Mar 20, Pride is not only on track but ahead in some respects in comparison with past years.
“At the time of my first interview with Xtra [in December] we were certainly behind but now in the middle of March… we are well positioned,” said Sandilands.
For example, she said, planning for Pride Toronto’s Pride guide is moving along well. “The design work has already started,” she said, noting that the publication doesn’t have to be sent to the printer until the end of May.
Sandilands previously said that Pride was also behind schedule with its sponsorship efforts. “In fact we are ahead,” she said, noting that some companies — like Labatt Breweries and TD Canada Trust — have already renewed their sponsorships with multi-year agreements.
Pride’s Village Partners Program, targeting Church-Wellesley businesses, will be revamped and streamlined, said Sandilands. Businesses can now either become a supporter or a partner, for $200 or $1,000 respectively. Either way a participating business gets benefits, she said, including increased visibility during Pride.
She said the street fair and marketplace will also be revamped.
“We have heard in the past that some of the businesses have been unhappy about stalls being set up outside their storefronts,” she said. “We have reduced the number of stalls that we are selling in order to give better exposure to the businesses that are permanently in the area.”
Pride Toronto is seeking submissions for participants in this year’s Community Café. The application deadline is Fri, Mar 27.
A public meeting is scheduled for Thu, Apr 2 at 7pm in the cafeteria at Jarvis Collegiate (495 Jarvis St). At the meeting the grand marshal, honoured dyke and honoured group will be chosen by election.
“We are looking for a lot of community input,” said Pride cochair Mark Singh.
It has, however, been a rocky start for Sandilands and a tough transition for Pride.
Xtra interviewed Sandilands at Pride’s offices. Present were Singh, Xtra editorial director Matt Mills, Pride public relations consultant Grant Ramsay, Sandilands and this reporter.
In a Feb 9 email to Pride Toronto’s volunteer coordinators, and obtained by Xtra, Sandilands wrote that “one or two [volunteers are] stirring up trouble.” She also wrote that the supposed troublemakers are motivated by “personal agendas.”
Sandilands said she has now met with almost all of the volunteers and has come to the realization that no personal agendas are at work.
“We found that [the problem] really was just rumours,” she said. “There were no personal agendas and we found that there are no troublemakers in the ranks. If there are people with personal agendas they should be Hollywood actors because they fooled me.”
When asked if her feelings had indeed changed about dealing with the volunteers, Sandilands replied, “Completely.”
“Hindsight is always perfect sight,” she said. “It’s easy to say now that I should have [met with the volunteer coordinators] in January. But I’m very happy that I have now done it. It’s been a really worthwhile exercise, and I think that our coordinators and our staff are all much closer as a result.”
One of the issues for the volunteers was a of a lack communication, said Sandilands. She said she was initially afraid to bombard them with too many emails but has learned that they would rather get more email and be well informed than be left out of the loop.
Another issue for the volunteer coordinators was that the staff is all relatively new. All of Pride Toronto’s former full-time staff have left in the last year. But according to Sandilands no one left the organization on bad terms. She said former event logistics coordinator Lisa Duke, former executive director Fatima Amarshi and former associate executive director Adrienne DeFrancesco are still in contact from time to time.
Sandilands said volunteers have also brought forth positive suggestions, including professional development seminars and certification programs for volunteer coordinators as well as team-building exercises.
None of Pride Toronto’s volunteer coordinators or any of the former staff Xtra contacted for this article would speak on the record.
Sandilands gave her first interview to Xtra after only a few days on the job. She subsequently posted a comment on Xtra.ca stating that she had been misquoted. She later told Xtra that she had not been misquoted after all but that her comments were presented out of context.
In Sandilands’ email to volunteers she wrote, “Xtra has bashed Pride many times over and I can assure you they have misrepresented much of what I said in order to get the type of reaction they wanted.”
During the Mar 20 interview Sandilands suggested Xtra reporters wore hidden microphones on visits to Pride’s offices on at least two separate occasions.
Mills denies this.
“That’s just nonsense,” he says.
Sandilands backed away from the accusation, saying, “I hesitate to say that I am 100 percent sure.”
“Assertions that Xtra is out to get Pride, that Xtra has stabbed Pride in the back, that the volunteers’ behaviour won’t be tolerated, this issue of a hidden microphone, all of this is, frankly, kind of bizarre coming from a community organization. It seems like paranoia,” Mills told Sandilands at the Mar 20 interview.
Mills asked Sandilands if she believed she was under surveillance, that anyone was out to get Pride or that the volunteers were conspiring to sabotage her efforts.
“No,” she said.
Mills called attention to the second clause of Pride Toronto’s mission statement, which states that the organization is accountable to its communities. Answering reporters’ questions frankly and openly, speaking to Xtra’s readers, says Mills, is one way of staying transparent and accountable.
Singh reiterated that Pride has dealt with these issues, adding that Pride never felt that volunteers were trying to undermine the organization.
“All I can say is that we are encouraged to hear that [Xtra] would like to turn a page in the relationship with Toronto Pride and Xtra,” said Singh, “and we look forward to a much better relationship between the two organizations.”