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Youth divided over corporate sponsorship

Queer youth activists’ e-mail inboxes hummed last week with rumours of the forced corporate sponsorship of the Pride Parade’s youth contingent.

“I am part of a group of people that feels that Pride Toronto has failed the youth community,” wrote queer youth activist Ryan Hinds in a mass e-mail. “After a unanimous and vocal vote against Rogers Communications sponsoring the youth contingent during the Pride Parade, the [Pride] executive board has vetoed the youth committee’s decision and is forcing major signage all over a youth contingent float.”

Two days later, Hinds declared victory in a follow-up e-mail.

“Due to what’s being classified as a miscommunication, the withdrawal of Rogers’ sponsorship of Pride youth will be negotiated next week.”

It could be viewed as a tale of youth empowerment and the success of grassroots activists over corporate dominance, or perhaps as a lesson on the complexities of communications in a volunteer organization.

Pride Toronto executive director Fatima Amarshi did not agree to be interviewed for this story, but in an e-mail she stated the Pride youth committee approached the organization last November with “ideas and a passionate request to assist them in increasing the presence” of youth at Pride…. Pride Toronto embraced these ideas wholeheartedly.”

It was a request from the youth committee for sponsorship that eventually led to opposition from within the committee itself, culminating in last week’s e-mail campaign.

The Pride youth committee cochairs, Frank Folino and Chris Jai Centeno (who is an intern at Xtra), have been largely silent on the issue, except for a written statement that claims the committee “wanted to seek sponsorship to get a better presence in the youth contingent by increasing visibility and awareness for [queer] youth.” Translation: Corporate sponsorship would allow for a larger float.

Fast-forward to two springtime meetings of the youth committee. Rogers was named as the corporate sponsor, and then details get sketchy.

“Two youth organizations did not support our decision and chose to take arbitrary action independently instead of discussing it further with us,” wrote Folino and Centeno.

Hinds remembers the situation differently. He says the committee was told at the meeting that Pride’s board of directors had decided the youth contingent would be sponsored by Rogers and that the entire contingent would march behind a Rogers banner and Rogers float, both proclaiming the company’s support for queer youth.

“We were unanimous and vocal about this not going ahead,” Hinds says. “Everyone felt the same about it — that Toronto’s youth community is not a walking billboard. It was something none of us wanted to be a part of.”

At the May 30 meeting, Hinds says the committee was told the sponsorship was on, whether they wanted it or not. Hinds left the meeting and launched an e-mail campaign that accused Pride Toronto of failing the youth community and of vetoing their decision. It garnered close to 300 e-mails of support and mobilized members of the community.

“Some people believe the best way to change something is from within,” says Hinds. “If Pride is making a lot of people unhappy and Pride doesn’t have a lot of space for youth voices and diversity, it’s up to [us] to change that.”

Pride has a different spin.

“The youth committee has our full support and we applaud them for their bold vision and their thoughtfulness for the concerns of their peers,” wrote Amarshi.

Folino and Centeno confirm that sponsorship by Rogers is out, noting a “unified youth contingent… is more important than anything else.”