For the last 10 years, Glen Brown has worked as a consultant to non-profits. Before that, he was a senior manager at the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. He has also served as interim executive director at the AIDS Committee of Toronto and on the boards of several community organizations, including the 519 Church Street Community Centre. He was hired in April after the sudden resignation of Pride's previous executive director. His task: to get the organization back on track after it racked up a large deficit last year, nearly saw its funding yanked by the city over the participation of a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and found itself at the centre of a debate over how political the organization should be.
Where is Pride now, after 18 difficult months?
It's a transitional year for us, in which we've rebuilt some frayed relationships. We've tried to refocus on the core nature of why we're doing this in the first place. I think and hope that people who are expecting a significant change will see that we've pointed it in the right direction and will be encouraged enough to hang in there for our longer-haul challenges.
How did you wind up taking on this job in April?
They put a group of people I deeply admire together on a phone call and made a concerted pitch. I had previously been approached about whether I would want to do this, and I'd said no. Then they came back to me and I had thought more about it and thought, this is an important thing to do.
What are some of the things you've done since you came in?
I've had to work a lot of stakeholder files, to try and make sure we're listening and communicating with various folks. Had to do a lot of budgeting work. Had to spend quite a lot of time looking at our challenges with the city and trying to make sure that our funding is secure.
What have you been doing to reach out to stakeholders?
There was a big consultation process last year and they identified a number of groups who were not feeling included by this organization. And so I've tried to think about, "are we building good relationships with, for instance, the trans community? With racialized communities?" Sometimes [reaching out involves]one-on-one meetings, sometimes it's going to community consultations, sometimes it's picking up the phone when people call and making sure I'm actually listening.
What do you think of Mayor Rob Ford skipping Pride?
It's a missed opportunity for him not to try and engage with our community. It's too bad.
What have you done on the financial side?
We've had to restrain the growth of our organization. We're probably about half the size of staff that we were a year ago; we've cut back the size of the festival, cut back on headliners. That all sounds negative, but it's also consistent with what we heard in the community consultations: "Being big isn't the goal here, it's being us." We're watching our pennies, but we're also trying to be responsive to our communities.
What have the preparations for this year's festivities entailed?
By the end of the festival, there will have been about a thousand people who will have worked on this, almost all of them volunteers, with a few staff, who will be putting in ridiculous amounts of hours. They'll be doing everything from putting up tents to approving parade permits to actually organizing the trans march, the dyke march and the big parade. There are a lot of logistics, only made remotely possible by the number of volunteers that help out.
What's going to be different this year?
It's funny, because while we've been trying to constrain the size of our organization, the parade itself keeps growing. We just put out an open invitation and people apply, so [this year's]parade is probably going to be the largest ever. The festival itself will be a little smaller, with fewer stages than last year, but it's also probably the most diverse set of programming we've ever done. There's a whole evening of South Asian programming. Blockorama, which is all about celebrating black queer identity, is moving to Wellesley stage, back in the centre of things. There's a francophone stage this year and for the first time ever, there's Spanish-language programming. And the trans program is much more substantial.
How will politics be part of the parade?
There are three things we're encouraging people to speak out about. One is trans rights being human rights. There was a bill that made its way through the House of Commons and then died on the order paper in the Senate. And it's time for us all to pay attention to that. The second is gay-straight alliances for every student in every school. One of our co-grand marshals this year is Leanne Iskander [a Mississauga high-school student campaigning for a GSA in her Catholic school] And the third thing is, it's the 30th anniversary of the bathhouse raids and the 25th anniversary of sexual orientation being added to the human-rights code. While we celebrate the achievements of youth, we also want to recognize we got to where we are because of some pioneers and a lot of brave activism. We're mass-producing placards that address all three issues.
Thirty years after the bathhouse raids - the event that started momentum for Pride in Toronto - what's the significance of the festival?
There's an economic impact. [A consultant's report]suggested it brings in about $130-million to the city. More importantly, people in Toronto are proud of being the kind of city that celebrates diversity and proud of being the kind of city that can host one of the largest pride festivals in the world. It's a big part of who Toronto is. It's also possibly one of the largest cultural festivals in the country.
What longer-term changes will you be making to Pride before your term is up in August?
Certainly, post-festival, we'll think again [about]that challenge around distributed authority within volunteers, but also, "Do we have the right mechanisms in place to continue listening to the community?"
This interview has been condensed and edited.