Pride Toronto “statement” after town-hall meetings

At the Pride Toronto town-hall meeting on August 30, attendees were told a “scribe” was taking careful notes and that a full report on what was discussed at the meeting would be issued “two weeks” later. Pride Toronto extended its own deadline to the Monday after that two-week period, namely September 19, then waited till 23:00 hours that day to issue a statement.

The statement is, as usual, badly copy-edited, barely comprehensible, overlong, and simply illegible on the Pride Toronto Web site (condensed typeface in grey on a grey background with not enough linespacing and too wide a measure). Thankfully you have this version you can actually read.

The statement accuses community members of racism twice, and essentially admits that Pride Toronto will assist Black Lives Matter Toronto in its complaint under the Dispute Resolution Process, such complaint having not actually been filed by the deadline and in which Pride Toronto is likely to be a respondent.

Outright lie in Pride Toronto’s statement

  1. Pride Toronto claim: “Recognizing that no one has asked or agreed to a full exclusion of this group[,] the DRP will… consider the nature of police participation.”
  2. Black Lives Matter Toronto demand: “Removal of police floats in the Pride marches/parades.”

Update: Statement from Pride Toronto

Since Pride Toronto’s first-ever Pride Month, we have heard from thousands of community members. Pride Toronto committed to responding to questions heard from community members at our town-hall meetings. We received questions at the meetings, but also received lots of feedback and recommendations. Many of you have requested and patiently waited for a response. So we’ve taken the time in our response to you that many of you took in the messages you shared with us to craft an honest and direct statement from Pride Toronto. We apologize for the delay.

They say you learn more from your mistakes than your successes; and Pride Toronto has had plenty of both this year. Following the 2016 Festival and Parade, it was critical the organization take the time to do something it should have done more of throughout the year – listen.

Pride Toronto received and read over 1,100 E‑mails from community members. We held two nights of town hall meetings where we heard from over 700 community members. We took the time to sit down with our staff and volunteers, [and] several of our stakeholders, including representatives of the Toronto Police Services [sic]. We shared a survey for those of you who were not able to attend the meetings and over 1,000 of you took the time to share your thoughts and feedback with us. Thank you. Toronto is home to a passionate and engaged LGBT community and we are grateful for your continued interest and contributions to improve this organization and movement.

While it wouldn’t be possible to accurately summarize the viewpoints expressed by all of you, the responses we received clearly demonstrate a very divided community. The LGBTTI2QQ2SA community is very diverse[, p]articularly in a city like Toronto, where our intersecting identities and lived experiences mean our experiences in this city are very different. While there are countless issues and causes where we can find common ground and celebrate together[,] there are many issues we struggle with greatly as a community. Race and gender are, perhaps not unlike the rest of society, clearly the issues with which our community has the greatest difficulty with.

Pride Toronto wants to begin by apologizing emphatically and unreservedly for its role in deepening the divisions in our community, for a history of anti-blackness and repeated marginalization of the marginalized within our community that our organization has continued. Pride Toronto regrets the way Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition’s (BLMTO[’s]) protest was handled by our organization and the statements made following the Parade that did not represent our organization. We apologize that the lack of decisive decision-making has left many in our communities feeling attacked. This is the opposite of what Pride is all about.

There has been an unbelievable amount of racism expressed by members of our community through this organization. For that, we are sorry. Individuals who proudly serve our communities in law enforcement and other roles in public safety have felt unfairly attacked and targeted by the community that it turns to for love and support. For that, we are sorry. Through this debate, all of you have turned to Pride Toronto for clear and decisive leadership and support through this issue and we have stayed quiet. For that, we are sorry.

When Pride Toronto selected [BLMTO] to lead the Parade as the Honoured Group, we did so because it honoured the tradition of resistance and political expression within our movement and highlighted the important work they are doing in this city to bring awareness to anti-blackness, discrimination and police violence. We knew this choice would be controversial and that it would lead to difficult conversations between Pride Toronto and marginalized communities.

While we selected BLMTO with the best intentions and to purposefully create discussion, we were not properly prepared for the racism this would ignite. At the parade, BLMTO presented us with a list of demands which highlighted how Pride Toronto could better engage with and support the most marginalized voices within our community, including the black queer community. Some of these demands were not new to Pride Toronto and had been raised by our community members in the past [–] without progress.

Pride Toronto knew that[,] for many years, the Black queer community has had to fight for their rightful place in the Pride festival – fight for space, fight for recognition and fight for support. Pride Toronto did not make enough of an effort to engage with members of our black community who have worked with the organization for a very long time. We made decisions, like the location of programming by our Black Queer Youth coalition, without appropriate engagement or consultation with those affected. So, when we received these demands[,] we understood that they are reflective of a long and difficult history between Pride and Black queer communities, but now also understand them to be reflective of our current efforts, or lack thereof, to improve relationships with Pride’s black community, and other marginalized communities. For this lack of understanding, effort to address historic wrongs, and repetition of past mistakes, we are sorry.

Pride Toronto remains committed to all of the demands agreed to and presented by BLMTO, Blackness Yes, Black Queer Youth, and others. We remain committed to demonstrating progress on each and every item and, as agreed, working with these groups to hold a public town hall this Winter to demonstrate progress and plans to deliver on these commitments.

Broadly, we heard clearly from the feedback, that Pride Toronto needs be more transparent around our decision-making and better consult with and communicate our direction to our community members. There were many recommendations outlined in the CAP Report to address these concerns. Pride Toronto will be reviewing these recommendations and updating the community on steps taken at our upcoming Annual General Meeting.

This year we chose a theme meant to invoke inclusion, and a breakdown of the discrimination along intersectionalities too common in our community [sic]. We expanded human-rights programming. We brought on several partnerships and venues for the first time with new art and cultural organizations. We invested in six dynamic stages that highlighted incredible performers from our Latinx, 2-Spirited, Trans*, Middle Eastern, and Black communities, among others. Our street fair included a Trans*-focused marketplace, family programming throughout the weekend, a health zone, and a Clean, Sober, Proud Place among other programs. By supporting the Trans March and the trailblazers who began the March (in defiance of Pride Toronto) we were able to host the largest trans march on the planet this year!

Much of this 2016 Festival was informed by a new Strategic Plan developed last year, after a year of consultations where we heard from over 1,500 community members. Many of the goals we have been pursuing as an organization [–] expanded programming year-round and new festival sites, highlighting diversity and intersectionality in our community, embedding human rights and family programming in all future festivals [–] were echoed by many of you over the last few months.

All that aside, it is undeniable that there are a number of fronts where we should have done better. We should have done a better job at listening to all of you, looking back on past advice from the CAP Report. We should have done a better job at listening, consulting and communicating to all of you about our decisions and directions as an organization. From your feedback it is clear that you want an increased focus on community outreach, accessibility, and expanded programming that includes and reflects many diverse groups within our community (Black-identified, seniors, Francophone, Latinx, youth, those living with disabilities, those living with addiction or mental health issues, etc.). Pride Toronto agrees with all of you and, by listening to all of you, will strive to do better at this every year.

To build a meaningful Pride festival requires, among other things, increased funding to support this programming. This was an objective on which Pride Toronto has focused on coming out of WorldPride. We successfully attracted new sponsors and leveraged increased support.

We believe that we have just started this journey of creating a more meaningful, dynamic, diverse and sustainable Pride. We sincerely regret that our lack of attention to critical aspects of our community has threatened this work. We hope that by listening, and working together, this organization can continue to chart a course forward.

So what’s next[?]

This isn’t the first time Pride has faced controversy and a complex question surrounding the meaning of inclusion. It likely won’t be the last. In 2012, the Board of Directors, in consultation with the community, developed a Dispute Resolution Process (DRP). It is our existing decision-making mechanism, which we believe is the best tool to assess the participation of law-enforcement agencies in a manner that is objective [and] transparent and involves the participation of human-rights experts. When initiating the DRP we also have to recognize that a decision governing a group that can include as many as 400 marchers and 11 different law-enforcement agencies is unique. Recognizing that no one has asked or agreed to a full exclusion of this group[,] the DRP will however consider the nature of police participation.

In the near term, Pride Toronto must begin the DRP process, working with BLMTO to present their concerns, appointing officers, and providing all feedback received to date on the issue for consideration. We will recruit a new Executive Director to the organization, using what we’ve heard to inform the search.

While this a challenging time for our organization, it is financial mismanagement that has plagued other pride organizations and we remain committed to effective financial management. At the upcoming AGM, the Board will present an annual report, audited financial statements, as well as a progress update on our strategic plan.

Four positions for the Board of Directors will be open for election at the upcoming AGM. This will be a significant opportunity to broaden the skills and voices that help guide the organization forward. We will ensure complete transparency around about [sic] the timelines and process involved to be elected.

Pride Toronto is part of an incredible movement. In other North American cities, pride festivals have often splintered off into competing and separate groups. The fact that we have one pride in this diverse and multicultural city is a testament to the work that we have done as a community.

So many of you fight to make the success we can experience today possible. This festival, this platform, must continue to belong to everyone in our community. It must offer something that speaks to all of us and the variety of lived experiences in our community. Where we can all feel at home [sic]. It’s also a movement born out of struggle, and led by the very same voices that are now demanding their rightful role in the organization and that their experiences will be validated. We will listen. We are listening. We hope.- that together, we can move forward as an organization. If we can do that, we can show the world how to create a festival that is rooted in our collective experiences, honours our courageous pasts, and looks forward to creating a better future.

Pride Toronto Board of Directors