At 26, Pascal Dessureault is the youngest-ever chair of The 519, the Village community centre well-known for its decades of social-justice work on behalf of the LGBT community. A native Montrealer who once worked as a political aide to the late Liberal MP Serge Marcil, Mr. Dessureault moved to Toronto with his now-fiancé in 2006 to study political science at the University of Toronto. He now splits his time between his jobs as volunteer chair of The 519 and manager of corporate communications for Purolator, Inc.
Does Pride have the same kind of significance today that it did 10 or 20 years ago, now that gay marriage is legal and gay people are generally well accepted in the city?
We’ve reached legal acceptance, we’ve reached legal equality. But we still haven’t reached social equality. There are still way too many young people rejected by their families due to their sexual identity. We have a program here which is called Among Friends, for LGBT refugees. That program to me proves the significance of Pride – we have 20 to 30 new refugees every week coming to The 519 because they left their countries because they were persecuted for their sexual identity.
Did you have supportive family when you came out?
Completely. I was very lucky.
What is The 519 planning for Pride this year?
We have at 519 what we call Green Space on Church, which runs throughout the weekend from Thursday night until Sunday afternoon. On Thursday night we have our gala-style event, which is called Starry Night. We usually have the who’s who of our community.
Who are some of the celebs on the list?
We have Rick Mercer coming, [design gurus] Steven and Chris from CBC. We will have Adamo Ruggiero, well-known for De Grassi: The Next Generation.
That’s like the who’s who of gay CBC stars.
In some ways, yes. [Laughs.] So Starry Night is our classy event. It’s an occasion to celebrate Pride in style in our appointed garden outside. To give you a bit of background, five years ago, The 519 decided – because we were just newly renovated – that rather than doing more of the same, we decided to do more diverse programming. We said, “Hey, why not make the community centre cool again?”
How do you make a community centre cool again?
By reaching out to people in our community that we’d never reached out to before. I often say that in order to serve people who “need,” we need people around that “want” as well.
It’s totally fine if we have a cocktail in the park for certain kinds of individuals as long as they contribute funds to our community services.
What sorts of changes has The 519 had to make as the Village itself has changed?
Of course the Village is changing, is transforming. We constantly need to adapt. Everyone these days is fighting for relevance. With Fabarnak [The 519’s new restaurant] we’ve created an opportunity.
You see these people sitting around here?
They would never have been to The 519 before ... We have Wi-Fi services here throughout the reception area.
Our goal is to have people during the day, similar to a Starbucks, where they’ll come grab a coffee and go sit on our couches that are beautiful and comfortable.
Do you get any push-back from people who know the history of The 519 as a real pursuer of social justice when you say things like, ‘We want this place to welcome people like a Starbucks?’
What we want to do is open up the centre to new people, new ideas.
Is there anything particularly difficult about being the youngest ever chair of this board?
It’s occasionally intimidating to be sitting around the table with individuals that have 10, 20, 30 years of governance experience or professional experience.
You used to work in politics. What do you think of Rob Ford decision’s not to attend the Pride Parade?
Rob Ford or not, Pride is all about bringing diversity and bringing our diverse community together.