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Toronto Pride Toronto hires its first black female executive director

People celebrate from the balcony of a building along the route of the annual Toronto Pride Parade, in Toronto on Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Mark Blinch/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Pride Toronto has hired Olivia Nuamah as its new executive director, the first time the organization has appointed a black woman to the role.

The much-anticipated hire comes after nearly eight months of turmoil sparked by a Black Lives Matter Toronto protest at July's Pride Parade, which was followed by the resignation of executive director Mathieu Chantelois weeks later.

Ms. Nuamah will take the reins of the organization at a crucial moment. At January's annual general meeting, members voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting a list of demands submitted by Black Lives Matter, the most dramatic of which was to ban police floats and booths from Pride events. On Feb. 10, before the board could meet to craft what level of police presence would be allowed in the future, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders announced that officers will not participate in the parade this year.

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The fallout from Pride's stand on police at the parade has been unprecedented, with some members of the LGBTQ community saying they will boycott Pride. Ms. Nuamah will have to repair this damaged relationship with police, retain the many members who feel the organization no longer represents them and keep an open line with Black Lives Matter.

"There were tense moments [during this past year's Pride Month], but sometimes we need to see tension as an opportunity," said Ms. Nuamah in an interview posted to Pride Toronto's website. "My hope is the difference between last year and this year is there will be greater levels of engagement with our membership and community in order to ensure that the festival reflects everybody's experiences."

Ms. Nuamah, who grew up in Toronto's Moss Park neighbourhood, most recently worked as executive director of Inner City Family Health Team (which delivers health care to homeless people in the city's downtown east end) and before that, as executive director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation. An early career as a DJ took her from Canada to England, where she eventually worked on a child poverty reduction strategy with former British prime minister Tony Blair.

Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Janaya Khan sees the decision to hire a black woman with a wealth of community experience as a step forward for Pride Toronto.

"Historically, the executive directors of Pride have not looked like her and don't speak to that lived experience."

Among Ms. Nuamah's first orders of business will be hiring a new festival director and volunteer program manager, two positions that must soon be filled with Pride 2017 only four months away.

Members of the Pride Toronto board, many of whom were newly elected at January's AGM, did not respond to requests for comment. Pride Toronto said Ms. Nuamah was unavailable for an interview because she was attending the Canada Pride conference in Halifax.

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Lauryn Kronick, who served on the Pride Toronto board from 2012 to 2015, when Mr. Chantelois was hired, said selecting a candidate who looks like Ms. Nuamah shows "the board is clearly listening to the communities who are raising the most demands and the most concerns."

Ms. Nuamah's experience makes Ms. Kronick believe the new executive director will be able to tackle the myriad challenges Pride Toronto faces.

"They have to rebuild an entire organization and do it in four months. I think right now, the priority is to get staff and get volunteers signed up and deliver a festival to the best of everyone's ability. And hopefully after that festival is delivered and produced, the long-term work of mending community ties can begin," she said.

Janaya Khan said they were disappointed to see early reactions online to Ms. Nuamah's appointment that suggested because she is black, she was a "token hire."

"To suggest that this is some kind of takeover suggests people in Toronto are very uncomfortable with black leadership."

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