Almost simultaneously, Tim Richards, Dara Parker and Stephen Regan have become the respective heads of Pride, Qmunity and the West End BIA.
A rare confluence of leadership change in key community organizations that presents opportunities to think, act, reach out and chart new courses creatively — and dare we dare — collectively.
So far, the audio from all three sounds promising.
Take Richards, who says he’s a big believer in supporting people to be successful.
“I believe if we can get to a point where we can take that passion and energy and figure out how we do more and greater things within and outside our community, these are the types of conversations I’d like to see more of. Less about the past conversations.”
Well . . . yes. And no.
Yes, because the problem with many of the “past conversations” is the habit they have of degenerating into noisy, futile negativity. I’m sure we can all do with fewer reports of multiple resignations, accusations of bad blood at the board level and acrimony over what bylaws mean and don’t mean.
But keeping history in mind in the movement forward can be handy. It provides an informative, if not always heeded, reminder of what ought not to be repeated.
Case in point: the chaotic leadup to London’s recently concluded WorldPride festivities. Initially fuzzy about whether there were problems or not, host Pride London, with mere days to go, shockingly announced it was pulling cars and floats from the July 7 parade, reducing it to a procession; cancelled official events in the gay district of Soho; and time-proscribed a planned rally at Trafalgar Square due to a funding shortfall.
Reports on the weekend celebrations suggest the event was still a success, despite the significant downsizing, heavy rains and the loud blame game that emerged over who bore responsibility for the crisis.
Depending on who you ask, fault is angrily levelled at the feet of London’s Conservative mayor and city authorities for not doing more to bail out the floundering event, the Pride London board, or both.
The blurry truth lies somewhere in the mélée.
But one particular thread of the acrimony caught my attention: the belief in some quarters that as a community organization responsible for shepherding the event, Pride London had lost its way.
“Poor leadership is what led us into this situation, and wholesale change is the only way in which we’ll resurrect Pride going forward,” writes James-J Walsh, a former Pride London associate director.
“It’s not like London is devoid of either LGBT commercial events, or activism,” Walsh notes. “What a successful event needs to do is draw all of these elements together, as a community that celebrates difference, but also unites.”
Let’s rejig that formula.
A thriving, vibrant queer community needs to bring all its elements together. It needs to recognize its differences while being committed to fostering collaboration and — yes, that hackneyed, elusive goal — unity.
At a time when there’s increasing movement of community out of gay villages and into the mainstream, our organizations do not have the luxury of maintaining a parochial approach to the way they do their business or their activism.
There’s certainly no shortage of individuals here committed to fostering inclusive community.
Hearing her friends speak of the dearth of Pride events for trans people, people of colour and those with various accessibility needs, promoter Pussy Liquor came up with Genderfest to bring together existing events “so that everyone can participate in their community during Pride.”
Then there’s recent Simon Fraser University graduate Paige Frewer, who co-spearheaded This is Your Q to collectively brainstorm three critical questions: What matters most to our community? What are the most pressing local queer issues? How can we better unify to address them?
Why can’t our long-standing organizations, now under new leadership, take a page from Genderfest’s and This is Your Q’s outreach books?
WEBIA and Qmunity’s new leadership say they’re in strategic planning mode. Richards is all over the idea of ensuring good governance moving forward with Pride.
But as the folks behind Genderfest and This is Your Q recognize, what’s needed is innovation, gushes of fresh energy, and willingness to seriously engage with the myriad constituencies that make up our whole.
We have, potentially, an opportunity for imaginative reinvigoration. The least we can do is indulge in a little carpe diem.