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Proud visionary

Since its humble beginnings as a picnic on the Toronto Islands, Toronto Pride has grown to become one of the largest LGBT festivals in North America, attracting a million-plus tourists while putting LGBT rights at the forefront of people’s boozy minds and dancing hearts.

One secret to Toronto Pride’s success has been its ability to mobilize the dozens of organizations that help fund what’s become a 10-day festival with a multi-million dollar price tag. Major corporate sponsorship at Pride has grown to have an important place at Pride, and some may say Scott Mullin, Vice-President of Community Relations at TD Bank Group, is the person to thank.  

More than a decade ago, Mullin’s vision made TD the first major bank to sponsor the Toronto Pride festival, a bold move that not only encouraged other major corporations to jump on board, but also turned the tide for LGBT employees who felt they couldn’t come out at work. As Toronto braces itself for the celebrations at WorldPride, we caught up with Mullin at his Wellington Street home to chat about TD Bank’s 10th anniversary backing Pride, his chic penthouse pad and his own journey from closeted Bay Street roller to out-and-proud Pride commander.

This is TD Bank’s 10th year sponsoring Toronto Pride.  How does it feel looking back on it all?

It was amazing to be at the WorldPride launch [in May] and think about how we’ve been doing this for 10 years. It’s something we started; we were the first major corporate sponsor—other than the beer and wine companies—to jump on board and sponsor Pride.

Some of the Pride initiatives TD started back then still exist today (running pro-gay ads, hosting a Pride reception for employees, hiring those buff TD boys and girls). What originally motivated TD to sponsor Toronto Pride?

Our initial motivation was to send a message internally [to employees]. TD kicked-off its diversity agenda 11 years ago when Bay Street and banks were not as gay-friendly and people were not comfortable coming out at work. We needed to send the message that we were in fact comfortable with embracing the LGBT community. That’s what motivated us to sponsor Pride. The broader impact positioned us as a leader of banks in the LGBT community.

TD has invested lots of time and money into promoting diversity. What work is left to be done?

We’ve made real progress on a lot of diversity files but there’s still more work to do. Sponsoring Pride 10 years ago had a dramatic impact. It changed the conversation. Other groups in our diversity portfolio would look at Pride and wish they had something similar. We’d have conversations with the aboriginal community, for example, and it’d be like,

“What’s the ‘Pride’ we can do?” We haven’t found it yet.

Did TD receive any major anti-gay backlash in the beginning?

There were a few Baptist churches north of the city that weren’t happy but nothing on a scale that was going to affect our approach. I talked about this with Ed Clark, CEO of TD, and he said, “If we get complaints about us sponsoring Pride, tell them there are four other big banks they can do their business with.”

You spoke at the WorldPride media launch last month and got choked up. What is your personal connection to Pride?

When I started at TD Bank 12 years ago, I was one of those classic in-the-closet Bay Street guys. To see how far TD and the community has come, I’m struck by my personal journey, but also the organization I work for’s, and the city’s over the past 10 years.

Corporate sponsorship divides some people. Some LGBT communities think corporate logos have no place at Pride.

What’s your take on that?

I think we’ve been very sensitive to the fact that Pride is a festival to celebrate but it’s also the result of a protest movement. There are still lots of issues (which is why we’re also sponsoring the WorldPride human rights conference).

I think those who are critical of corporate sponsorship have a right to insist that corporations aren’t just there to chase the pink dollar over Pride weekend. We have a demonstrated track record of our policies. Corporations need to pass the test and I certainly think we pass the test. If the community is really going to become accepted it needs to be part of the Bay Street mentality just as much as the Church Street mentality.

You used to live near Church Street. Now you live here in a sprawling penthouse pad on Wellington Street. How did you wind up here?

I used to live near The Village on Earl Street and I was either going to renovate or move with the intention of never moving again. I’ve lived here for two years now and I bought it off plan. I wanted outdoor space [the terrace is 800 square feet], which is hard to find. I didn’t want all glass walls because I collect art and I wanted a place to hang things. I also wanted to be within walking distance of work. Toronto traffic has reached a point where I feel like I’m living in Bangkok.

Your space has everything from tribal sculptures to modern art. How would you describe your aesthetic?

It’s eclectic. I lived in Asia for eight years. I’ve also lived in Africa and the Middle East. I used to be in foreign affairs before joining the banking world. The temple on my terrace is from Ubud, Bali. People think it’s really exotic, but it’s basically your Canadian Tire temple because every house in Bali has one. I got the Ming cabinets in Hong Kong and I think they fit comfortably with the modern furniture. I’m pretty simple. I’m not a Victorian.

What is your message, on behalf of TD Bank, to everyone attending WorldPride?

Let’s celebrate what we’ve accomplished in Toronto. Let’s also remember there’s still lots of places with lots of issues, whether we’re talking about Russia, Uganda or the Caribbean. We take a lot for granted and we have work to do across our own country too. But let’s also have a big party.

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