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May-June 2010

Interview: Pride Toronto Executive Director Tracey Sandilands

Paul McLaughlinWebsite

[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted and published ahead of the final decisions about the fate of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. Eventually, the Pride Toronto board of directors decided to ban the phrase “Israeli Apartheid,” then retracted the decision after community outcry. See today’s blog post by Natalie Samson for a different—and considerably less sunny—outlook on Pride 2010.]

Tracey Sandilands, 49, arrived in Canada from her native South Africa in November 2008. The next day she began her new job: executive director of Pride Toronto. After a bumpy first year in the demanding job, Sandilands is looking ahead to the 30th edition of Pride and what she hopes will be one memorable anniversary party.

Q&A

This: What experience did you have organizing an event such as Pride Week?

Sandilands: I had worked on Pride in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, but neither was as large as Toronto’s, which is the third biggest in the world. South Africa has the only Pride parades on the continent and the Jo’burg parade goes back to 1990.

This: You inherited an organization that had every staff member quit due to burnout before you arrived. How tough was that?

Pride Toronto Executive Director Tracey Sandilands. Illustration by David Donald.

Tracey Sandilands. Illustration by David Donald.

Sandilands: You have no choice but accept it. The board helped incredibly. I hired some people by phone before arriving.

This: Did you suffer culture shock?

Sandilands: I did to some extent but nothing I couldn’t handle. The biggest difference is the budget, which for this year will be $3.3 million. In South Africa it was a tiny fraction of that.

This: Was there resentment of an outsider coming in?

Sandilands: Probably some but that’s to be expected. I think the only nasty experience was a comment posted after an article appeared in XTRA! [Toronto’s gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper). Someone suggested I take my “white supremacy attitude back to South Africa.”

This: That person accused you of being upbeat despite Pride having run a $138,400 deficit in your first year.

Sandilands: That’s right. But the deficit was a result of many things, including complicated timing issues relating to grants. We all had a right to be positive about what we had accomplished.

This: XTRA! is no longer a media sponsor. Was it because you criticized it for having some inaccuracies in a story about you?

Sandilands: I don’t think that was the reason. We just never had a discussion about sponsorship.

This: But the community can be political.

Sandilands: Oh, yes. But nothing more than any other activist group.

This: Pride was criticized for allowing Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to take part in last year’s parade.

Sandilands: It was decided that we shouldn’t keep anyone out of the parade because of their political views

This: What will happen this year?

Sandilands: This is a matter that [Toronto Pride’s] board of directors will decide on. As of now it’s being debated but no decision has been made.

This: What major changes are there this year?

Sandilands: A lot. We’ll have events outside the Gay Village, such as at Queen’s Park. More events for young people under age 19 and for those older than 40. Some of the latter have complained that the music was not their kind of music.

This: The date is a week later (June 25 to July 4). Is this because of the G20 summit occurring during your previous time period?

Sandilands: We made this move on our own. This allows us to incorporate the Canadian and U.S. holidays as well as keeping the anniversary of Stonewall, June 28,, in our festival. More people than ever should be there.

This: You have Cyndi Lauper giving a free concert during Pride Week. That’s a coup.

Sandilands: We’re so excited. She’s such an icon in the queer community.

This: Will you be able to enjoy any of the festivities?

Sandilands: I hope so, but it’s a very demanding time. The previous ED suggested I go up on a rooftop and enjoy the parade, enjoy what all of us have accomplished.

This: You’ll do that?

Sandilands: If there’s time.

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