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Vancouver Pride Society executive director resigns

Ray Lam departure follows tension around trans pledge and VPS resignations

Former Vancouver Pride Society executive director Ray Lam addresses the society’s annual general meeting Feb 14, 2015, after the society posted a record surplus in 2014. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher

After two resignations, one termination and tension this summer around political parties refusing to sign its trans pledge, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is looking for a new executive director.

Ray Lam resigned after this year’s Pride season, VPS president Tim Richards says in a Nov 2 statement emailed to Daily Xtra.

A recent VPS newsletter says, “after yet another successful Pride season, the Board of Directors for the Vancouver Pride Society has decided to initiate a leadership transition as we move into 2016.”

The newsletter praises Lam for his work as a volunteer, a director and three years as general manager and then executive director.

Lam became general manager in 2012, and executive director in 2015.

“The VPS is incredibly proud of the work Ray did in leading our organization. The society will continue to move forward with many of the initiatives he helped to create, such as the Legacy Awards and the open street model at our Davie Street celebration,” Richards says in the newsletter.

Lam is also credited with “transforming the Official Pride Guide into an inclusive social venture publication.”

“While we search for our next leader, there are many passionate people who will continue their tenure at Vancouver Pride,” Richards concludes in the newsletter.

Daily Xtra reached Lam for comment by phone on Oct 30, but Lam said he did not have time to speak. He offered to call back later but has yet to do so. His Facebook account has been deactivated.

His LinkedIn profile still lists him as VPS general manager.

According to the Indeed job search site, the executive director position was posted there Oct 10, the same day former VPS volunteer coordinator Melody Johnson says she filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal against the VPS. Daily Xtra has requested a copy of the complaint from the tribunal. The executive director position is also posted on the VPS website in an undated post.

Johnson says Richards fired her July 3 with a letter from Lam.

Johnson says at the time she was fired she was distraught after an alleged sexual assault by two men in an alley near Davie Street on May 23. She alleges she told Lam about the assault but received no support from her employer, nor any accommodation for possible post-traumatic stress resulting from the incident.

“He offered no response and answered his phone and walked away,” she alleges to Daily Xtra.

“This community has been my family,” she says. “They [the VPS] totally turned their back on me.”

The VPS board of directors issued a statement Nov 2 saying, “We take the allegations from this former employee very seriously. While we obviously cannot share details of human resources decisions for privacy reasons, we can say this: upon learning of the former staff member’s complaint, we immediately launched an investigation led by an independent third party.”

The statement says the investigator concluded that the allegations were without merit, and that the VPS acted in good faith.

Neither Richards nor VPS vice president Chrissy Taylor returned requests for interviews. Other board members contacted referred Daily Xtra to Richards.

As executive director of the VPS, Lam became a focus of controversy over the trans pledge that all Pride parade participants were required to sign in order to march in the 2015 parade.

Lam told Daily Xtra at the time that signing the pledge meant supporting the VPS’ core values. “Promoting human rights and equality is one of our core values,” he explained. “We’re just highlighting the fact that trans people are not equal under the law.”

Questions about the pledge first arose around the Conservative Party’s Vancouver Centre riding association and whether it had sought an exemption to signing the pledge.

Lam initially told Daily Xtra on July 10 that the Conservative Party riding association had applied for an exemption to signing the pledge. Then he reversed himself several hours later.

“I was mistaken,” he said.

“There is no exemption request from the Vancouver Conservatives,” he said, adding that he had been out of town and was just catching up on his work.

“I’m not actually involved in this process, so I don’t look at any of the exemptions,” he said. “I don’t know who’s applied for exemptions or who’s approved or declined.”

Richards later confirmed the Conservatives sought an exemption then rescinded its request, after Daily Xtra obtained a VPS letter sent to the riding association July 28, again inviting the party to sign the pledge.

More questions arose around the trans pledge when executives of the BC Liberal Party refused to sign it, and lost the party’s spot in the parade as a result.

Taylor told Daily Xtra at the time that the pledge must be signed by a senior official of a political party. “We’re taking a hard line because it’s important to the trans community,” Taylor said July 22. “We had to make it clear it’s somebody with authority on behalf of the party itself.”

VPS board member Tim Ell resigned three days later, citing concerns with Lam’s conduct surrounding the pledge.

“It’s become very clear that the yardstick keeps being moved for particular parties and not for others,” Ell alleged.

“I think everybody got lost in the idea that it’s a good thing to fight for trans equality,” he said. “The process and the procedures and the consultation did not happen.”

Ell alleged the pledge was never approved by the VPS board.

Richards told Daily Xtra the board works on a consensus basis. “It didn’t need to come to a vote because we built consensus,” he said.

Lam declined to comment at the time. 

VPS parade coordinator Bry Leckie also signaled her intent to resign after the parade.

She declined to discuss with Daily Xtra the specific reasons for her resignation at the time, but stressed the importance of focusing on the trans community and its need for equality in law.

Ell believes it’s long past time for a change in leadership at the VPS.

“Pride is not engaging with the queer community because it’s been too busy focusing on internal problems,” he alleged to Daily Xtra Nov 3.

He hopes to see some new people join the board as well.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Nov 3, 2015, to correctly reflect that the Vancouver Pride Society’s board of directors issued a statement Nov 2 responding to allegations from a former employee. 

This story is filed under News & Ideas, Vancouver, Pride, News
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