PROULX: Time for a Pride we can be proud of
24 Hours' Shaun Proulx is proposing that Pride Toronto should drop the nonsense and be something the community can be proud of. POSTMEDIA
SHAUN PROULX/ 24 HOURS
For many Torontonians it's difficult to recall when the non-profit organization Pride Toronto hasn't bungled its stated mission to "bring people together."
In August, Mathieu Chantelois, Pride's latest executive director, resigned after activist group Black Lives Matter held July's Pride parade hostage to make controversial demands (which Chantelois signed off on then reneged on the next day.) Chantelois' exit also came after allegations against him by Pride Toronto's staff of sexual harassment, leaving controlled substances in Pride's offices, and that he was racist, sexist, transphobic, abusive and manipulative.
Pride Toronto dysfunction isn't new. Sources at Pride Toronto describe pre-Chantelois leadership as "paralyzed," saying meetings, emails and calls were regularly avoided in favour of "hiding under desks in order to avoid upsetting anyone," following the severe beatings it suffered from the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) debacle in 2010.
That year, Pride's board, choosing between allowing QuAIA to march in the parade or lose badly needed city funding (it considered QuAIA a hate group) voted to ban the words "Israeli apartheid" from the parade. Censorship accusations flew and effigies of the beleaguered executive director at the time were carried through our streets.
Post-Chantelois, Pride Toronto sits in a crossroads moment. And while it claims - in an online apology after the Black Lives Matter incident - to want "to build a meaningful Pride festival," I suggest this juncture is too critical not to activate a total revamp; we deserve a Pride to be proud of.
SET AN INTENTION TO LEAD
From same-sex marriage triumphs to ongoing wins against HIV and AIDS to vast human rights milestones, as Canadians and as Torontonians we've seen the future first . We are therefore responsible to those still struggling for just a taste of our good lives to offer inspiration and example. In 72 countries, gays can be imprisoned or killed - what might the future look like for LGBT people in Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, parts of Iraq and Somalia and Nigeria? Do we show them winning is only a path to community deterioration, or do we honour our good fortune through leadership that includes the diplomatic managing of community, basics like answering all your calls and emails, and behaviour that doesn't cause an entire staff to levy serious accusations against you? At the very least hide your drugs properly.
WHY ARE YOU HERE?
Riddle me this: Under what need does Pride Toronto serve us? Originally formed following the 1981 bathhouse raids when a unified LGBT voice was desperately needed, Pride celebrations became mainstream's gay demystifier. The AIDS epidemic and the same-sex marriage movement then merged people and Pride deeper into community, but now same-sex marriage is legal, HIV is a chronic manageable illness, and being gay isn't very queer. What fuels Pride Toronto today? Could healing the very community they've played a part in fracturing be its raison d'être?
RUN YOUR BUSINESS LIKE A BUSINESS
The economic clout of LGBT people cannot be understated: $1 trillion in America, $100 billion in Canada; Pride Toronto's annual economic impact alone is pegged at over $300 million. Yet accountability for this remains with a coalition of the willing, well-meaning but often under-qualified volunteers. Instead, find the least-known people with the greatest capacity for managing money, time, space, and crisis. Reserve seats on the board for chairs of organizations that make up the LGBT community. And get a CEO, one who also understands the important societal role of Pride. Respect the festival for the giant economic engine it is.
STOP BURNING BRIDGES
As the owner of a media business that was once a multi-year sponsor of Toronto Pride, my experience with them is shared by others who have also been good to the organization: a dumb disregard for Business Rule No. 1, which teaches that business is all about relationships. At Pride Toronto business is all about business: if you're of no use to them today, yesterday holds zero value. Entire economies would collapse if the world worked like this.
Pride Toronto does little for the community once the big weekend ends. Ironically, especially with people bemoaning that Pride is too corporate, it is corporate ally TD Bank who sets a high bar instead. Their "Pride 365" initiative uplifts and supports in meaningful ways all year - from homeless shelters to nights at Blue Jays games - so follow your sponsor's lead, Pride.
MAKE PRIDE REAL AGAIN
Toronto Pride is embellished to be a conduit for All Things LGBT but it's not. From inside the Pride Parade, visibly gay people are hard to spot. An LGBT mass exodus happens annually at Pride (I skipped World Pride and last year's festivities) which must be acknowledged - why are locals leaving? A common answer: "I feel like a visitor at my own celebration." Community conversations should be a regular in-the-calendar occurrence - not just after a crisis - so to create far-reaching stakeholder engagement.
Few know the rich, inspiring past that carried us to the LGBT good life enjoyed here today. Isn't it time for an LGBT art and history museum that would honour those before us while offering another reason to visit Toronto? An aging dear friend of mine has one of the world's largest collections of homoerotic art he worries about finding a home for, hint hint.
None of this is rocket science. It's simply asking a question I ask myself daily: "What would Madonna do?" Where Pride Toronto is concerned, the answer is: "Reinvent yourself."
Shaun Proulx hosts The Shaun Proulx Show on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167. He is the publisher of TheGay GuideNetwork.com and leads a #ThoughtRevolution on ShaunProulx.com.