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NEWSMAKER:

Pride Toronto’s Kevin Beaulieu is energized by the community’s passion & by volunteers’ commitment

 

For Pride Toronto executive director Kevin Beaulieu, the most important people at this year’s event will be those who have never been before.“People never forget their first Pride,” says Beaulieu, “in the community, especially, but even outside. We do draw a lot of people. It’s become one of the most-loved institutions in the city.”

This year’s Pride is Beaulieu’s first as the organization’s ED, a position he’s held for six months. He came to Pride after years spent working at city hall, most recently as executive assistant to Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city’s only openly LGBT councillor, whose ward includes the gay village.

Beaulieu also worked with former councillor Adam Giambrone, and mounted his own unsuccessful bid for a council seat in 2010.

Beaulieu says he was inspired to take on the often-daunting task of heading up Pride by his experience at city hall during last year’s unsuccessful attempts by several city councillors to remove Pride’s municipal funding following the inclusion of Queers against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the parade.

“I got see inside Pride in a way that I wish most people could. The community rallied around Pride. I got to see inside all that. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 I got to see the community rally around an institution that, despite all its troubles, was still loved.

“In many ways, what happens at Pride is what I’ve worked on at city hall. In many ways, Pride resembles political campaigns…. It’s a lot smaller, and it’s more focussed on this community and on certain issues. But it’s about marshalling resources, organizing volunteers and working towards a big event.”

But Beaulieu says his background in politics is less relevant to his new job than many people assume. “Political experience is less important than you might think. Where it does overlap is in terms of advocacy.”

But politics is unavoidable. While the provincial government is providing $276,000 in funding, the federal Conservatives are only ponying up $52,000. And Pride may soon find itself back on the hot seat at city hall if QuAIA follows through on its announced intention to march in this year’s parade. Last year, city council shifted its funding timeline for Pride so that city funding — about $120,000 in direct funding and $300,000 in services like police and clean-up — was paid only after the event. Council could very well vot to follow that model again, and several councillors have already said allowing QuAIA to participate could lead them to vote against funding Pride.

But Beaulieu says Pride is better equipped to deal with the issue this year. After last year’s controversy, Pride established a dispute advisory panel.

“It’s very important that all the groups feel welcome and able to express themselves freely,” says Beaulieu. “We have got to be equipped to handle these disputes, especially when it comes to human rights and free speech issues. Someone can bring forward a dispute to the panel, which is arms-length from Pride. The panel tries to reach an agreement, but they make a ruling if they have to, which is binding on Pride. That process hasn’t been tested yet, but it means Pride doesn’t have to act as an arbiter.”

There’s also the ongoing controversy over whether Mayor Rob Ford will attend any Pride events; all he’s said is that he expects to spend the parade weekend at his family cottage.

“He does have a history of making remarks that are antagonistic,” says Beaulieu. “Whether or not he’s sending a message, it’s not surprising that it’s received as one. But it’s been a long struggle and we’re not interested in going backwards. I don’t think we’re going to let it depress us.”

Instead, Beaulieu says Pride is concentrating on this year’s event. While he admits that even after last year’s financial success, the festival still has to watch its budget, he says there will be at least 250 paid performers, many of them local, as well as revamped Queer Voices literary events offsite at Glad Day and Toronto Women’s bookstores.

With Serbian human rights activist Goran Miletic as the international grand marshal, Beaulieu says Pride won’t lose sight of its political significance. “Pride may not always be at the forefront with a megaphone on any given cause, but we know our mission and values. We don’t want to lose sight of what’s going on.”

With this year’s event fast approaching and World Pride beckoning in 2014,  Beaulieu says he is energized by Pride’s volunteers. “I hadn’t seen the depth and breadth of volunteer commitment. It’s a pleasant surprise. It’s inspiring. I draw a lot of encouragement from it. They’re often quite young, which I think speaks well to the future of Pride.”

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