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Toronto’s gay community to storm city hall rotunda May 16

Bringing a message to Rob Ford before axe falls on Pride Toronto funding

The Proud of Toronto group plans the May 16 city hall event. Credit: Andrea Houston

On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – and with potential cuts to Pride Toronto (PT) funding looming – Toronto’s queer community will bring a big gay message to the city hall rotunda on May 16.

The message will be directed to Mayor Rob Ford and city councillors: PT is more than just a parade and a party. “It’s about building community, creating jobs and saving lives,” former Community Advisory Panel member Michael Went tells the group of about 20 activists, community members and representatives from various gay, lesbian and trans organizations who gathered at Ryerson University on May 9.

Call it City Hall Pride. Billed as “a celebration of the best of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community,” speakers have been lined up to talk candidly about how the festival touches lives every year. Expect to see drag queens and performers and hear personal stories and heartfelt testimonials.

The Proud of Toronto group formed in April when it became clear that Ford had put a target on the gay community, beginning with Pride Week. PT may soon face devastating funding cuts, which could cost the city World Pride in 2014 and quite likely force the organization into bankruptcy, says PT co-chair Francisco Alvarez.

“We’re a group of people who see the risk and decided to do something to stop it,” Went says. “The mission is to protect LGBT services.”

Many of those programs and services, like the 519 Church Street Community Centre, the AIDS Committee of Toronto, Planned Parenthood and the Inside Out film festival will also be involved on May 16. Other groups, such as Tourism Toronto, will speak to PT’s economic impact.

Youth will play a big role in the event: members of the St Joe’s GSA in Mississauga and youth from Buddies in Bad Times Theatre will take part.

“Youth are really powerful,” notes Brendan Healy, artistic director at Buddies.

PT is on the agenda at the next executive committee meeting, on May 24, and the final vote on funding at city council is expected in June. The issue was previously on the agenda to be debated April 20, but Ford deferred the item because it fell on Passover, allowing the Jewish community time to mobilize. Alvarez notes that the threats to funding should have ended when it was determined that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’s message was not hate speech, according to the city manager’s report, released on April 12.

Just days after the release of the report, QuAIA announced that the group would not march in the parade. The move was meant to serve as a challenge to Ford and city council to continue to fund PT, now that there are seemingly no more excuses not to.

“Now the city wants a written guarantee that QuAIA won’t take part in the festival,” Alvarez says. “They won’t get that from anyone.”

Kevin Beaulieu, executive assistant to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, also stresses the urgency of the event. He says the key will be convincing councillors before the motion hits the floor for a vote.

“It’s hard to win something at council if it’s been approved at executive committee,” he says. “That’s why this event is so important.”

Went says PT’s funding is likely just the first in a series of chops to Toronto’s arts, culture and HIV-prevention programs.

“When Rob Ford voted against HIV funding, it sent a chill through our community,” Went says, citing the recent council vote where Ford was the only dissenter against $100,000 in provincial funding for an anti-HIV/syphilis initiative. The investment passed with a vote of 44 to one.

Went points to the upcoming “core services review” as the place the cuts will be decided for next year. With a projected shortfall now nearing $800 million, many in the city are bracing for the axe to fall as council searches for savings. The review is happening through May and June.

“To have an impact on what happens next year, you will have to get involved now,” he says.

Proud of Toronto at city hall: