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Editorial: Do We Really Need a Pride Committee in Halifax?

Liam Ross
Liam Ross

It feels like Halifax Pride is at a crossroads. After the tumult in past months surrounding accusations of bullying, theft, and harassment, we would imagine a sensible path forward for the committee would involve a greater degree of clarity around their actions and decisions than in years past, when our faith in them was a given. What has actually happened is less affirming: We’ve been introduced to the new board members via brief, static web posts, and been assured that they are working “behind the scenes” to grow and evolve, and presumably organise this year’s Pride festival. In other words: a continued lack of clarity.

How did we end up in a scenario where our Pride festival feels this precarious? 

Halifax Pride isn’t a private entity that produces our Pride festival like it’s a blockbuster film, directed in secret and debuted fully-formed for our entertainment. They shouldn’t be working behind the scenes. With our shaken faith in their granted privilege to organise our festival, they should be making their actions and choices extremely public, with plenty of chances for us to get to know who these folks are and how they plan to act in our stead. Meanwhile, the days and weeks pass, the weather gets warmer, and Pride season approaches. Now, I’m not going to claim that the new committee can’t get the job done. We will see if they get the job done safely and neatly, and by all likelihood they probably will. It feels necessary, however, to sit for a moment and think - How did we end up in a scenario where our Pride festival feels this precarious? Is a centralised committee really the right way of organising things, if this is how it continues to operate?

Halifax Pride Parade 2016

As anyone who knows their history can tell you, the Pride movement was built on grassroots action. Queers are scrappy folk, and we’ve never let perfect be the enemy of good. From our first scrawled protest signs to our crunchiest first times in drag, DIY and resourcefulness are in our blood. It’s something we’re lucky to share with our wider Haligonian community, which features a gloriously vibrant fine arts and craft community - this is a city where people like to get their hands dirty and make something. So why is it, then, that we delegate our Pride festival to a glossy bureaucracy like Halifax Pride? Especially when that glossiness has hidden an ugly underbelly of toxicity. It’s something we see again and again in these scenarios; Toto pulls back the curtain on the all-powerful wizard and Dorothy sees the inconvenient truth, that authority is built on an exaggerated fantasy. Organisations like Halifax Pride can stick to their guns and say they’re built on progressive values, but they’re no different than any other organisation that is also built on hierarchical authority, prioritising the acquisition of funds, and aligning themselves with corporate interests. The rot is in the foundation, and it’s not a question of if this house will fall down. It’s when.

It’s time to start thinking about what we want and need Pride in this city to look like if it’s going to be sustainable and a reflection of our priorities. It needs to be radically reimagined, to use a very popular combination of words. This wouldn’t be anything new, however; not to us. Our elders didn’t have a how-to manual when they came out of the closet and started marching. They relied on DIY solutions, the resources in their community, and on each other. They knew, and we always need to remember, that Pride is about what we already have inside us. We knew we have rights, we just needed to get the rest of society on the same page as us. Similarly, we already have everything we need for a fabulous Pride festival in front of us. If you want to be entertained, we’ve got more drag performers than we can handle. If you want to break a sweat, we’ve got more sports teams than you can shake a hockey stick at. We’ve got choirs, co-ops, societies, and more. We’ve got community leaders. We’ve even got our own news website to keep everyone informed! We have been organised, and will go on organising, with or without a Pride committee.

As queers, we don’t fear change.

So, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Like I said, I’m not going to claim that the new committee can’t get the job done. They’ll have my respect if they do - even if I think the bureaucracy costs us more than it’s worth - because every bureaucracy is just people trying to get a job done. These people are part of our community, and they always deserve a chance to do a better job tomorrow than they did yesterday. With Halifax Pride, that will require a massive transformation in their ongoing style of management and communication. It’ll be a transformed state that might be indistinguishable from taking the community-led path in the first place.

As queers, we don’t fear change. If Halifax Pride was disbanded, we would be able to pick up the slack, without a doubt. Sure, it might result in a version of Pride that’s a bit more DIY, a bit less centralised, a bit less fancy than in previous years, but that’s the kind of attitude this community was built on. Our ability to organise ourselves has gotten us this far in the fight for our freedom, dignity, and equality to be recognized. A Pride festival should be a piece of cake.

Liam Ross is a community-focused creative-type who works in Nova Scotia as an artist, teacher, and curator. He splits his time between Halifax and Cape Breton.