Glen Brown’s longest month
The year 2010 was rough for Pride Toronto. After months of controversy surrounding the decision to ban a contested activist group from the parade, following threats of being abandoned by nervous sponsors, the executive director resigned just before the annual general meeting that revealed an apparent conflict of interest and the organization being nearly $110,000 in debt. To dig itself out of a mess like that, Pride Toronto needed a hero, maybe even a saviour.
Glen Brown is not that person.
As a longtime community organizer and activist who runs his own communications consulting business for non-profit organizations, Brown was Pride’s natural choice for interim ED. He’d even done it before, having stepped in to head the AIDS Committee of Toronto for six months in 2008 until permanent ED Hazelle Palmer was hired.
”Immensely flattering and incredibly daunting,” is how Brown describes Pride’s offer. “It’s an important institution but also a huge, clumsy and awkward beast.” He said no. But the exhaustive community consultation process Pride began after their cruel summer began to change Brown’s mind. He participated in the discussions and liked the final report. “I don’t agree with every one of the 133 recommendations but I like the direction Pride is heading in now,” he says. He signed on. “My heart wanted to do it.”
“The first week was bewildering,” he says. ”While I kept thinking, ‘My God, what have I done?’ all these friends and people in the community were saying lovely things about me and I thought, ‘Hang on, I actually do not have any superpowers!’” he laughs.
Not true, says Todd Ross, director of community development and partnerships at Casey House: “One of the advantages Glen has is that he knows so many people within the LGBT community so when issues arise, he can just pick up the phone and call people. It’s really going to help him in that role.”
But by the second week, Brown found himself thinking, “Holy crap, what I have gotten myself into?” Now running Pride and continuing to serve his own clients, Brown quickly realized, “I could be working 24/7. With every minute in the office, the demands expanded.”
The third week, however, saw the pieces beginning to fall into place. Brown realized he had the skills and capacity to get a great deal done. “There’s a lot I can do in this role,” he says, “and a lot I just can’t — I don’t have time and it’s not in my hands anyway.” He says much of the job is simply about discussion, “We’ve heard you and we can do X but we can’t do Y.
“It’s not rocket science.”
The previous regime’s need to keep building a bigger, better Pride became a trap, Brown says. “Our goal should be to celebrate our communities and that means putting them back in control. It doesn’t mean we’re going to turn down money from corporations but it means asking them, down the road, how well they meet our standards. Are they a queer-positive community member?” Brown says Pride has a dual challenge: To avoid financial bankruptcy and to avoid political and ethical bankruptcy. “I am as concerned about the second ledger as the first.”
And with the QuAIA controversy now muted, Brown says Pride has become “more explicit” with city council, bluntly telling them, “You have the capacity in your hands to kill this festival. Defunding Pride will not be some slap on the wrist, it’s in jeopardy. That’s not spin, I’ve seen the books.” If the city will clean up after the Santa Claus parade, it should help Pride, Brown insists. “This thing is important. Queer kids are still running away from home, still living on the street, still killing themselves. Just by existing as a safe space, Pride is a political statement.”
That includes putting Blockorama and trans programming front and centre, ”both philosophically and practically,” Brown says. “For me personally, Blockorama is always exciting because it’s the place where this notion that partying and politics need to be separate gets blown out of the water.”
And so by his fourth week, Brown says, “I was having fun. No, seriously, this job is tremendously exciting. I’m dealing with politics and partying and fierce and fabulous people. If none of that is fun, then something is deeply wrong. It’s been humbling, the number of people who have personally thanked me for taking on a role that they think is important to take on. It’s very encouraging.” He stops and laughs, “But I will just remind people again, I do not have superpowers!”