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Pride Toronto abruptly fills board vacancy in lead-up to AGM

Pride Toronto abruptly fills board vacancy in lead-up to AGM

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Whether they intend it or not, the message is 'We're stacking the board': Demchuk
After enduring months of harsh criticism that it is unresponsive to the queer communities it serves — particularly from black and trans groups — Pride Toronto has baffled supporters and critics alike by abruptly appointing a new board member, who quickly came under fire for transphobic comments he made in 2008.

Chad Simon was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Pride Toronto (PT) board of directors on Aug 26. When Keith Clarkson resigned from the Pride board in January, he left a gap that has remained all year.

Most board members are elected at an annual general meeting, but PT's board is empowered to appoint new board members when seats are vacated.

But with PT's AGM set for Sept 23, the decision to appoint Simon — rather than have him stand for election — has some people scratching their heads.

"Why now?" asks Kristyn Wong-Tam, a member of Queer Ontario's media committee and a candidate for Toronto city council.

"It is standard practice in board governance to try to fill a vacancy as soon as possible or at the next scheduled AGM. This is why the timing of the appointment is now of concern... Open and transparent governance is what the community is expecting and what I have been suggesting since the sign-vetting debate."

"It's the optics of it," says writer David Demchuk. "They know the entire community is looking at them and wanting transparency and accountability and participation with the community in trying to solve leadership problems. Even if Chad might be wonderful, appointing somebody at this time, right before their annual general meeting, sends a really unfortunate message. Whether they intend it or not, the message is, 'We're stacking the board.' Even if they meant this in the best possible way, this is so easily poorly perceived, and it's odd that they would do this now when there's an AGM so very soon."

If Pride urgently needed to fill that gap, argues Demchuk, they could appoint a new board member, "then have him stand for election with everyone else at the AGM... they've short-circuited the process."

Simon admits he's heard these criticisms this week.

"I'm working on something for the AGM to explain my background and how I became involved and what my goals are for Pride Toronto," Simon says.

"I want to be a more integral part of the community. I want to see us grow as a community together. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like there's more fraction than there is unity, and I think it's terrible. I'd like to see more community building."

Unfortunately, Simon's words are undermined by footage from a 2008 Xtra piece on sex reassignment surgery becoming funded by OHIP. As a man-on-the-street interviewee, Simon explained his opposition:

"That's a choice that they're making, to go and have that operation done, or the surgery done. I'd rather see all that funding going towards hospital beds and other things that speed up time when you're in the hospital."

Susan Gapka is a trans activist and another candidate for Toronto city council this fall.

"I didn't know who this person was, but I started getting emails and postings. Some people are calling him transphobic. I wouldn't go as far as that, but he's considerably ill-informed."

"That interview was done a long time ago," insists Simon. "As you get a little older, a little more mature, you get more information on what's going on in the community. It's not just about what I want anymore, it's about we. My values have definitely shifted towards that."

Ultimately, he says, "I'm very new to this. I'm going to learn what's going on and move forward with the community. That's my goal."

Gapka calls Simon's interview "an educational moment."

"Shouldn't an organization with such a high profile have better scrutiny? There's a governance credibility issue with Pride Toronto appointing this person, which was troubling enough without being compounded by these kind of comments. It does raise an incredible amount of questions. What is their criteria for selection?"

Exactly, says Demchuk.

In all the turmoil around Pride Toronto this year, at all the community rallies, "I didn't see Chad Simon at any of those meetings, I didn't see Chad Simon participating, and I have to wonder if that's exactly why he was chosen. Who wouldn't wonder that?"

"It's not about any one person, it's a systemic issue," says Demchuk. "So many poor decisions have been made specifically to serve a vision of Pride which is, 'bigger, better, blander.' That vision is not working."

With Pride posting an estimated $250,000 deficit this year, he warns, "Whoever next takes up the treasurer role and the financial responsibility does not replicate the same mistakes. These mistakes will destroy the organization."

But Demchuk fears the Simon appointment is "an unpleasant piece of foreshadowing."

"This does not say to me, 'We have heard the community.' Whether they intended it or not, it says the opposite....They may feel they've 'heard' the community, but clearly, in their minds, they've heard it, categorized it and filed it away. That's not what this is about; it's about interacting with the community."

Demchuk has put his name forward for Pride Toronto's board of directors.

As the board president of Bleecker Street Housing Co-op, he says, "To a certain extent, it's apples and oranges, but essentially, how a board works and interacts with members and the community is vital to the health of the organization. The more you try to restrain that interaction, in the naive belief that you're limiting turmoil, you actually foster turmoil."

At press time, representatives of Pride Toronto have not returned Xtra's requests for interviews.


Comments

Chad
@Angelo. No one is saying that Chad should not have the director's position because he is a washed up circut queen. Geesh. It's wrong if people put him down and question his character. What people are questioning is the appointment of this individual a few weeks before the AGM and a few weeks after a call was put out for new Directors. Let Chad stay on for the two weeks of his appointment and stand for election at the AGM. If you are a member Angelo, you can vote for him and feel that the directors at Pride are there because the membership supports them in a democratic and transparent way. Now what we have is some terrible bylaws allowing a few to get people into the organization without any input from the membership. I'm sure that if Chad has put so much into Pride, he deserves to be on the Board. Pride's actions however have led to people not trusting him and not trusting Pride. Here's hoping this much drama does not keep you from having a blast at the next Pride. I worry about people like you becoming immobilized because of things like this.
You know too little...
I'm pretty sure that I saw Chad Simon at several of the events this past pride running around dealing with security issues, helping with crowd control, and at one point I saw him at the Cyndi Lauper concert adjusting the VIP stage because it almost collapsed. Not to me that seems like something more than any of you would do for Pride... Of course I'm talking to those who simply do not know him or actually have seen him work. I don't know Chad Simon personally but from what I've personally seen and heard of him, he pretty much took a lot of effort to assist this Pride... Not bad for a washed up circuit queen eh... Give him a chance. He may end up being a great influence on Pride, and if he F***s up then you can go after him. But until them, just let him have his chance. Oh and if you're all so disappointed in who Pride chose, or who they elect, then why don't you volunteer or run for a spot on the board. No one is stopping you... Better yet if you're so unhappy with Pride, then don't go. We don't need your negative queer drama around the rest of us who actually want to have a great time.
hiding?
I don't know what's so wrong with calling the Board corrupt, maybe wicked was too strong, maybe there is a better word - egotistical, incompetent, selfish..stop me when I hit a nerve. And nasty? Pride's little world has finally been exposed and they're being called on to explain their actions that were supposed to be done for the community, not in spite of it. Good luck defending your little world too Chris. If you honestly looked at what Pride has done with the trust the community has put in the people that run it, you'd be re-thinking who to call nasty.
For the record
@ wicked. Just for the record, it's personal attacks such as calling volunteer board members "corrupt" while hiding behind a pseudonym that makes you nasty. It's also what makes you so easy to dismiss.
great time
@Chris - So, that's great you had a wonderful Pride. Sounds like you're not one of the people who are going to pick up their toys and never come to Pride again. I had a great time at Pride too. So as far as being "nasty", I think your interpretation of what I asked of the people who said that Pride was ruined is a bit off. You had a great Pride, wonderful. There are many like you that come and go through Pride. That's great. There are people who work at Pride at making you have a fun time. I'm not saying that I or anyone else here had a terrible time. I'm just asking the people who say that "Pride is over for them because it was ruined by "other people" why it was ruined. Nothing nasty about that, is there? And of course if Pride was ruined because Chad Simon was parachuted in to help prop up a scared and corrupt Board, that's a problem. I don't think it would ruin Pride for the majority of people who are more worried about where to find rainbow fridge magnets. So, I would say stop bellyaching and address the fact that has been hammered home on this thread again and again - What kind of governance exists at Pride that someone like Chad Simon is now a director and why did this happen and why are the books kept so badly - and if I could just through in one more question - what kind of connection does Pride Toronto have to its community. Simple questions, but they still remain unanswered. So I'm happy you had a great time at Pride and have friends. I too hate Jazz. Maybe that makes us both nasty!
you are kidding
+40-year old gays - a target of outreach this year Really? Why didn't they tell us? I thought this year was Year of the Trans.
Just A Heads Up!
So it turns out that Pride Toronto is graciously answering your board-related questions on its Facebook group, where it has posted a statement distancing itself from the Pride Coalition's "All-Can" event, which took place last night ( http://www.facebook.com/PrideToronto?v=wall&story_fbid=124275497623141 ). I recommend you pose your questions there and see if the organization responds. But before you do, make sure to read the questions that have already been posted so that there are no repeats. Cheers!
Ruined Pride?
@ Wicked. I'm not sure where you whiners experienced a bad Pride. Mine was pretty awesome. On Friday I spent the early evening at the Trans stage before heading up to central for a late night set by a woman DJ. On Saturday, I stopped in to say hi and share a couple beer with some lesbo friends after the Dyke March and headed over to watch Cyndi Lauper. On Sunday I watched part of the parade, checked out the community booths and bought a T-shirt from Unlearn, an awesome not-for-profit from KW. Then I went to see the Jazz show at Queen's Park (which was programmed because of input by +40-year old gays - a target of outreach this year.) BTW, I hated the Jazz show. Bored me to death, but I'm sure somebody liked it. Afterwards, I wandered the streets, stopped in to a few of the stages and left as everything was winding down. No, I am not on the committee, no I am not fucking a committee member. I just had a great Pride and feel the need to defend the people who put up with all your shit. If you had your Pride ruined, I suggest it was entirely your attitude. The same nasty attitude that is so prevalent in your posts.
Please go smoke some pot!
Everyone here should go smoke some pot and they you will all be happy and gay and much less inclined to make much ado about nothing! Look at me, I get completely stoned on fresh air and could care less about Pride Toronto, etc!
name calling 101
@Chris - Petty asshole? Huh? just the facts! Name calling doesn't work, you're right. But help me understand - is calling people incompetent, egotistical, and not fit to be on a board, name calling? Even if the facts point this out? Well, Chris, I guess I'm a name caller. Can you enlighten me and let me know what you would call the Board and how would you describe Pride's current fiscal situation, and its outreach in the community? I would love to see what the opposite of name-calling is in this situation - one love.

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