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Toronto & beyond

New Pride ED looks to rural communities, international struggles

PRIDE & PREJUDICE. Pride Toronto's new ED Fatima Amarshi sees Toronto as a leader in the international queer scene. Credit: (Nicola Betts)

Pride Toronto’s new executive director Fatima Amarshi has big plans for the organization ? plans that extend well beyond the borders of the GTA.

“We are very fortunate compared to a number of other Prides and our sister communities throughout the world,” says Amarshi, who joined Pride Toronto in September. “One of the things that rose up in terms of our awareness was recognizing very basic struggles that prides in Warsaw or Sri Lanka or Brazil are going through.”

Compared to many other cities in Canada and around the world Toronto’s Pride has it easy, with support from local government and corporate sponsors. In comparison, Amarshi offers the example of Warsaw, Poland. Approximately 2,500 people marched in Warsaw Pride this year, despite a ban from then-mayor Lech Kaczynski. (Kaczynski was subsequently elected president of Poland in September.)

“As a community, really an international leader in our struggles and our movement, we have accomplished so much…. How can we help support that in other parts of the world?”

For Amarshi, this question has personal significance. Born in Tanzania, she immigrated to Canada with her parents and sister in 1986. She came out six or seven years ago and contrasts her experience to what it would have been like to come out in her country of origin.

“Being a queer woman in Toronto you have the incredible advantage of having access to a community, a large community, for support for working through your own issues when you’re dealing with coming out as well as the organizational support that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten back home and I don’t think a lot of people in rural Ontario or rural Canada have access to.

“In that sense, both the community and Pride have a great deal of personal meaning for me, and… I think Pride’s visibility also translates for kids living in towns that are much more homophobic.”

As for how Pride Toronto might assist activists organizing Pride events in other countries, Amarshi says there aren’t any specific ideas yet but that Pride is open to input.

Before coming to Pride Toronto, she earned an honours bachelor of arts in cultural anthropology and political science from McMaster University. She’s spent the last five years working at various jobs in nonprofit management, including serving as interim executive director of Toronto East Counselling And Support Services, a nonprofit that assists adults with mental health issues to live independently, and executive director of Desh Pardesh, a multidisciplinary festival of art in South Asian communities.

Beside the short-term goal of working toward Pride 2006, Amarshi has other long-term ideas for the organization including improving the way in which Pride Toronto manages its data and policy work.

“I think that in terms of organization we have the potential right now to build quite a bit of infrastructure… and that’s one thing I want to see happen.”

Amarshi says she’s excited to be working for a cause “very dear to my heart.”

“[T]his is ultimately the ideal place for me to take my skills and my experience,” she says. “Pride is just an incredible event, as well. It’s a fantastic opportunity that way.”