Organizers behind a concert designed to unite the LGBTQ community in light of recent murders have responded to community criticisms that the promotion of the event was insensitive.
The "Love Wins" concert, happening on Thursday, March 29, was originally described as "part vigil, part celebration."
The event is being chaired by Cineplex Media president Salah Bachir and producer Kate Alexander Daniels. They were asked to organize it by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the Church-Wellesley Village, Toronto's long-established LGBTQ neighbourhood. Although a number of vigils have already been held for the gay men who were allegedly victims of Bruce McArthur, Ms. Wong-Tam and Mr. Bachir say they've had many people express a desire for something larger and, in Mr. Bachir's words, "more uplifting."
In production since December, the event went public on Wednesday, through a news release and Facebook page. It drew hundreds of RSVPS, but also a number of criticisms.
"This is not a time for celebration. I'm appalled that people would think this is okay," wrote a user named Jordan Pedde. Others wondered if the victims' family and friends were consulted, and were taken aback at the prominent logos of corporate sponsors, including Labatt, Scotiabank, CBC and Bell Media.
One critic is Sara Malabar, who produced the opening and closing events for 2014 World Pride. "Our dead are still not buried. Not all of them are named. They're in forensic labs. They may still be missing and in planters," said Ms. Malabar, who lives in Mississauga and describes herself as someone "who normally loves large events and concerts."
Right now, she said, her main concern is mental-health support for friends, especially those now haunted by memories of their own past abuse, whose "trauma is pretty raw."
"I just feel like a quote-unquote celebration of our strength is not an appropriate response at all," she said.
She and Mr. Bachir went back and forth a few times on Facebook on Wednesday night, with Mr. Bachir pointing out the event was initiated by Ms. Wong-Tam, "the only member of the LGBTQ2S community on City Council."
By Thursday afternoon, Mr. Bachir and other organizers had decided to rethink their wording. "Perhaps 'celebration' wasn't the best use of words," Mr. Bachir said in an interview. "But we did say in the press release that is a celebration that we are strong, we can go on after all of this has happened."
Mr. Bachir, who identifies as a "queer Arab man," is also sad, and angry. He knew some of the victims personally, and his sister hired Mr. McArthur as a landscaper. "This whole thing has me kind of reeling as well," he said. "I know of quite a few Arab and Middle Eastern men who are not out to their wives and their families. Just seeing that guy's picture, you almost want to throw up."
After responding to Ms. Malabar and a few others, Mr. Bachir decided to take down the Facebook event page entirely. He said that some of the criticisms were inaccurate, such as that none of the scheduled performers is queer. When the page reappeared, all comments had been erased, and new ones require approval.
So Ms. Malabar started her own Facebook page titled "Stop Love Wins Concert" where she posted contact information for Ms. Wong-Tam and various sponsors, such as the Downtown Yonge BIA. Her page states that she wants the event cancelled, and that she will organize a protest on the night it happens if it isn't.
Kitty Rodé, who uses the pronoun they, is another queer Torontonian who shared displeasure on Facebook. They find the very event title odd: "Love Wins" is a slogan that came about during advocacy for same-sex marriage in the United States.
Rodé has a disability and and says that events that require corporate funding, such as Pride, often overlook the needs of "multiply marginalized" LGBTQ people in order to "to entertain the city as a whole, to entertain non queer people."
"So many queer people struggle to get access to mental health care, to regular health care, with not feeling safe walking the streets, with not trusting the police," they said. "I know so many grassroots organizations who are trying to address those things on the front line, and I really feel like these organizations deserve these resources more so than throwing a party."
Ms. Wong-Tam said that the concert is not the only way she is pushing the city's institutions to reckon with the murders. She and Mayor John Tory have been pushing for an inquiry into police conduct, and she said that more funds will be directed this year toward urban health initiatives that target LGBTQ people.
She said that she understands that the event might be "too soon" for some people, but that "it's important that we don't undermine benevolent actions."
"I can hold that space for them if they feel that it's not the right time. But for some members of the community, it's taken us too long."