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Pride Toronto searches for renewal

Pride Toronto searches for renewal

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'Next year looks very bleak' as organization posts another huge deficit
Empty beer gardens, flagging donations and sponsors who delayed signing contracts caused an estimated $250,000 deficit for Pride Toronto (PT), says executive director Tracey Sandilands.

Final numbers for 2010 will not be ready until September, says Sandilands, but she suggests beverage sales might have been down by as much as $60,000.

In 2009, PT lost $138,605, even as it grew its budget from $2 million to $3 million.

“We can’t keep posting deficits,” Sandilands says. “We have to reestablish our financial base. The only way to do that is to take what we are certain of for next year — which is very little at this stage — and make sure that our budgets fit into that. So, severe cuts in every respect.”

As a result, Sandilands announced on July 14 that two PT staff members are being laid off: entertainment manager Mary Zondanos and communications manager Michael Ain. A third position will not be filled when a staffer returns to school in September, and five short-term contracts will not be renewed when they expire on July 30.

The number of stages and beer gardens in 2011 could also be affected, Sandilands adds.

“Next year looks very bleak at this point,” she says.

Financial figures will not be available until PT’s annual general meeting on Sept 23, but Sandilands chalks up the deficit to companies who had not signed expected contracts even shortly before Pride Week.

“Many of those sponsors, up until two weeks before the festival, we were still expecting their sponsorship. They had given verbal confirmations, they had agreements ready to sign,” says Sandilands.

She says sponsors eventually balked because of the censorship battle. In March, PT announced that it would vet all parade signs in advance through an “ethics committee.” In May, it announced a ban on the term “Israeli apartheid.” In both cases, community revolt forced PT to retract its policy.

PT’s official guide for 2010 lists some 34 major sponsors, compared to 27 in 2009.

Former board member Mark Smith, a member of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech, says logistical problems were apparent to Pride Week attendees. They show “lazy, inefficient programming,” which led to losses at both the beer tents and in the toonie drive.

“It has zero to do with the political messaging issue,” says Smith.

The scorching, mostly empty South Stage and the long lines at Queen’s Park on Saturday night, where people queued to watch Cyndi Lauper, are examples of poor planning that did little to foster good will toward PT, he says.

In addition to belt-tightening, PT is also looking to turn the corner on community concerns about its decisions over the last year.

In June, it pledged to hold broad consultations with Toronto’s queers. That process is being shepherded by 519 Church Street Community Centre executive director Maura Lawless, gay lawyer Doug Elliott and Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes.

A panel will be charged with gathering input and generating a set of recommendations.

“Pride is pulling together a bunch of issues that they would like some direction on,” says Hawkes.

“Obviously, some of those issues are directly before us now,” he adds, giving as examples the inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the increasing corporatization of Pride.

Meanwhile, Hawkes says that he, Elliott and Lawless have generated a list of people they would like to sit on the panel and sent the list to PT. From the pool the board approves, people will be approached to create a diverse, seven-member panel. Both Hawkes and Elliott have offered to sit on the panel.

“The initial conversations have to do some open public forum formats, but also some targeted formats to go to some organizations and groups to get their feedback. So it’s not just the louder voices who are really engaged in some of these issues,” says Hawkes.

Hawkes wants the process to be as public as possible, with the mandate, meetings and recommendations all shared widely.

That’s encouraging to Roy Mitchell, a member of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech.

“It must be a committee made up of the diversity of the community and people that will honour the history of Pride and understand that this is an opportunity to change Pride in a way that better reflects the history of Pride and the current conditions in which queer and trans people live,” he says.

But, Mitchell points out that when it comes to transparency, having Hawkes and Elliott submit a “secret list nominating themselves,” doesn’t make for a good start.

Sandilands, for her part, says she is skeptical of big, public meetings where community members air their grievances. She cites the April 13 Blockorama meeting, as an example.

“We found that when we tried to speak, we were shouted down,” she says. “That’s not productive.”

Because of a combination of vacations and the scope of its task, the public consultation panel won’t have results in time for the AGM, Hawkes says.

“There’s no way. If we’re really serious about listening to the community and listening to different segments of the community, it’s not going to be possible,” says Hawkes.

“It’s going to be the first of September before the panel kicks off. And the hope is — at least my hope is, if I’m involved — that September, October, November will be intense times to listen and then to make recommendations.”

Elliott and Lawless are on vacation as Xtra goes to press, and neither could be reached for comment.

Comments

Yeah, right, like you own this issue
Perhaps the primary reason gay teenagers are drawn to suicide is that, when they try to come out of the closet, they are greeted by dreary drama queens who insist on calling themselves queer and promise only a life of political struggle. Seriously, gay teen suicide is indeed problem. We all know that. It annoys me that you are claiming ownership over this issue, as if no one else in the gay world could possibly understand it. Perhaps if we made Pride, and gay life in general, a little less political and a little more mainstream there would be less of it. Nothing could be more frightening for a young gay teenager to find out that the gay community is controlled by leftist nutcases who constantly use the word "queer". But back to the issue of Pride (which you seem to have difficulties focusing on), all I'm saying is that Pride is not just for people like you so stop trying to take it over or change it into a dreary political march.
Imagine?
Dreary? That one of the leading causes of death among queer teens is suicide is too dreary, threatens to suck the life of your party? This is simply bizarre, and mind-numbing. Enjoy your party, Jim. I'm sure it will be a blast.
Drama queen
Yes, let's suck all the life out of Pride and turn it into a reflection of the dreary political struggle you imagine this all to be. That will increase participation and turn the event into something everyone will really want to attend.
Disneyland, Jim....
You are mistaking Pride -- and it's history -- for Disneyland. "Wow that was fun"? We live in a country that had to be dragged through the courts, over and over, to win bits and pieces, baubles and bangles. We live in a country where queer and other kids are still at risk in highschool hallways, where their suicide rates are frightening, where they make up an enormously disproportionate percentage of homeless kids, where religious leaders -- and not just fringe Xians -- berate and belittle them with impugnity. For starters. Wow, but isn't that fun.
Only for the truly queer?
You used the phrase "truly queer". How exclusionary is that? I'm sorry I'm not truly queer enough for you. Sucking dick is apparently not enough. Why don't you force people who want to attend Pride to wear pink triangles to prove how truly queer they really are? Or perhaps you should just exclude everyone who is white and employed? You write about "tweaking convention, upsetting presumption", but this is nonsense: the Pride you envision is about attacking our employers, breaking windows, insulting Jews. By the way, Pride's history is not as contentious and political as you seem to think. In Toronto we've actually been very fortunate: apart from a few very occasional police-related incidents, the city (and indeed the country) has more or less given us whatever we've wanted. Once we spoke up and let everyone know we were here, we more or less got what we wanted. We're fortunate to live in a country that bends over backwards to do the right thing. It was a struggle, but it wasn't the intense apartheid-level political struggle you and Sav seem to wish it was. Maybe you should move to another country where they really do have political struggles. We owe it to this city to put on a Pride event that makes the city proud and that the city can advertise internationally as a draw. Think of the Sydney Mardi Gras as an example.
You're not getting the point
Douglass I don't disagree with a single thing you've written. I certainly don't want to exclude anyone from Pride. I'm just saying certain political messages (extreme right or extreme left) do not belong in Pride. It has to be conducted responsibly and kept somewhat sanitized. It's the same as at the office. We keep our stranger views to ourselves in the interest of hanging on to our salaries, getting promoted and getting along with our coworkers. If Pride is to be a large inclusive event, we have to accept that we're part of a large mainstream group and ensure everyone feels included. I don't want to attend a Pride where I'm confronted by hateful and disturbing political messages. Sorry, but I don't. But most of all I want the organizers to do a good job, put on a good show, and make us look good as a community. I want the whole city to think, "Wow, that was fun". I want the city to reverberate with the knowledge that there are a lot of us, that we are a great group to have around, and that we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in every way and from every corner. I also want the organizers to get lots of funding and sponsorships to help pay for it all and come out of it without a shortfall. They can't do this when extreme lefists are essentially trying to take the whole thing over, subvert the organization process and make it all a tiresome nightmare for everyone involved.
and just in case the lefty
fringe out there is listening, let me send you a little coded message, also from Rick Bebout: "Those hoping to win social acceptance by adopting the standard model may have missed something Jane once said: "Policing ourselves to be less offensive to the majority is to be part of our own oppression.""
but Jim,
it's you who want exclude those lefty tax dollar stealin' folks, not me. It's you and your "ilk" who want to define what is a real gay issue and what isn't. It's you who use the rhetoric of inclusiveness in order to erase rather than embrace diversity. Pride is for everyone, at least that has been its history. But the pride you appear to want is only for those who share your narrow exclusivist agenda. I don't thinks it's wrong for this "us" you claim to speak for "to want society (including the media and corporate world) to think we are just nice normal people." I am happy you are a nice normal person. But pride's rich contentious history has been about so much more than nice and normal -- Rick Bebout sums it up beautifully: "...many of us, thankfully, are not. We are truly queer -- our lives and our values distinct, not "normal." Maybe even (though we rarely dare say it these days) better than normal: more open, generous, and humane. Many of us are true magic. At our best we are tricksters: tweaking convention, upsetting presumption, peering behind masks, casting light. We let on that there's more than one way to see the world; more than one way to live. And many more ways to love. That particular magic, that distinct perspective -- "oblique maybe," Neil Bartlett once said, "but precisely because of that informed, revealing, powerful" -- has long been our most precious gift."
ahh, but Douglass,
Pride is for everyone, not just you. If you are not willing to discuss this event as one that is meant for everyone, stop talking about Pride. Someone, at some point, has to say: what do most people who go to this event want it to be?
ahh, but Jim,
I make no claims to speak for anyone, unlike your speaking for "most gay people" claim. Which proves my point even more clearly -- the politics of prides rich history have been reduced to some vague self-serving claim about what "most gay people" want. Maybe I don't get out enough, but I don't know "most gay people".

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