Vancouver Pride Society co-executive director Kieran Burgess plans to step down after this year’s festival season wraps up.
Burgess has been working and living in Canada on a two-year visa from his home country of Australia, but his permit will expire this fall.
“I wanted to start the search now,” Burgess explains. “The Society has had transition issues in the past so we are trying to make it as smooth as possible this time.”
Burgess will step away from his VPS position in mid-September. He currently shares the executive director position with Andrea Arnot; Burgess focuses on operations, administration and finances, while Arnot focuses on all aspects of event planning.
The VPS hopes the new person will start in July so they can share a “crossover period” with Burgess and get some training time with him.
Burgess says he loves Canada and has enjoyed his job with Pride, but after four years away from Australia he is ready to be home.
“It was an amazing opportunity for me and a different opportunity from what I’ve done in the past,” he says. He previously organized the international Ironman Triathlon, while living in London.
Burgess says he is proud of the changes made by the current Vancouver Pride administration.
“I think the progress we have made from where the Society was last year, when I started, has been really positive and that’s at the board and staff level. They had their issues in 2015 and that was interesting to come into,” he adds.
The VPS faced controversy in 2015 after some staff and community members questioned what they saw as a partisan, uneven implementation of the trans pledge that all parade participants had to sign. Several staff and board members resigned or were fired that summer, including the volunteer coordinator, who filed a human rights complaint against the VPS for allegedly failing to accommodate her at work after she was allegedly assaulted. That complaint has since been settled in mediation by the Human Rights Tribunal, though the terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
Former VPS executive director Ray Lam resigned at the end of that Pride season, in fall 2015.
After Lam’s departure, and after several months of searching for a new ED, the VPS split the position in two and hired Burgess and Arnot in March 2016.
Burgess says he is announcing his departure early to help ensure a smooth transition for the VPS this time.
He believes that in the past year he and Arnot have established a stronger foundation than the VPS has previously seen. “I think just in terms of organizational health, the board has transitioned to a governance board and a large part of that has been looking at staff to have more say and decisions at an operational level,” he explains.
“And I think Andrea and I have built a really good corporate culture here. We have really happy staff and are proud to deliver a surplus with our financials,” he says.
Burgess will be involved in choosing his replacement.
“I think someone coming into this has to value a strong culture, a positive culture,” he says. “They have to be very aware of the financial challenges of running a non-profit, and they also need to be very passionate about social justice and the LGBTQ2+ community in general.”
Alan Jernigan, a VPS board member who, while serving as co-chair in 2016, hired Burgess, says Burgess’ contribution will leave the Pride Society stronger than before.
“Kieran has been fantastic,” Jernigan says. “You can really tell the discipline and focus he brought from a big international organization like [Ironman] and that degree of professionalism has had a really big effect on us.”
Jernigan says the VPS is now looking for someone equally capable around finances and administration. “Because the parade and festival are such important events, the person we find needs to be as passionate about the work that we do as we are,” he says. “So it’s a really cool opportunity which doesn’t come up often because it’s a chance for somebody to play a really direct role in an event that brings so many people together.”
The VPS is now grappling with the question of police in the parade, as some community members feel unsafe and silenced walking alongside uniformed officers, and have asked that police be excluded.