Tracey Sandilands says she is shocked and surprised to be named Xtra’s Toronto newsmaker of the year.
“I think the title should be Pride Toronto and not me specifically,” she says. “At PT, the board leads the organization. I do what I’m told, or I try to. I’m not trying to absolve myself of any responsibility because I provided the information, upon which they based many of their decisions.”
It was a turbulent year filled with colourful characters and fascinating figures, including new Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, former councillor Kyle Rae, mayoral hopeful George Smitherman, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) members Tim McCaskell and Elle Flanders, lawyer Martin Gladstone and PT board members Roy Mitchell and Mark Singh. But Sandilands stood out at the centre of the storm of controversy that surrounded PT. No other newsmaker garnered more ink in the pages of Xtra, more discussion among Xtra’s editorial staff or more intense talk within the Toronto community.
In the months leading up to the 2010 festival, Sandilands and the PT board of directors made deep miscalculations, most notably about how profoundly important freedom of expression is to Toronto’s gay, lesbian and trans people. PT’s constituents responded clearly after the organization announced a sign-vetting policy in March. PT changed course only to announce a ban on the term “Israeli apartheid” in May.
With its communities in open revolt, PT reversed the ban in the days leading up to the festival. It had little choice, but by then much of the damage was done. Fundamental changes in how PT is managed and calls for Sandilands’ resignation were recurring themes at the subsequent community advisory panel meetings. PT and Sandilands face a huge crisis of confidence, and by all accounts the organization is in a very vulnerable financial position.
“I do think the decisions were very difficult ones, and I can tell you they were not taken lightly,” Sandilands says. “We did our best to find the right solutions, but with many decisions we may not have made the right ones.”
Still, at the end of the day, in the face of all the controversy and in the shadow of the G20, the festival came together under Sandilands’ direction. Personally, she says, the controversy took its toll.
“It’s not nice to be hated, even if you’re not sure why you’re hated,” she says. “It’s not the way I envisioned my career with Pride Toronto playing out. It’s been a really difficult year.”