Last week, the federal government announced a $1.5 million emergency fund for Pride festivals across the country in order to help counter the rise in hate-fuelled protests affecting them, which is also increasing costs for new safety measures.
Toby Whitfield, executive director of Capital Pride in Ottawa, says their experiences during Winter Pride events show why the money is necessary.
“Drag performers were harassed, plans were announced to try to shut down some of our family Pride programming,” Whitfield says. “The level of hate we saw online was at an all-time high. We had protesters that tried to interfere with family-friendly programming and intimidate attendees, and show up with signs that were disgustingly transphobic and homophobic.”
“This year has been challenging for us,” says Sherwin Modeste, executive director of Toronto Pride. “We have seen an increase in cost in many areas. Our insurance in 2022 went from $67,000 to over $300,000—an over 300 percent increase. Security—our paid private security went up by over 25 percent. Our paid duty officers went up by over 150 percent. This year, for the first time in Pride Toronto history, we have to explore additional security measures for our trans and dyke rallies.”
“Our member Pride festivals have been deeply affected by the rising surge and rising of anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate,” says Julie Nobert-DeMarchi, president of Fierté Canada Pride (FCP) and founder of Timmins Pride. FCP has 65 member organizations, and is one of the largest Pride organizations in the world. “This alarming hate of hatred demands our immediate and unwavering attention.”
Timmins has needed to implement a safety plan for the first time in their 10-year existence after targeted incidents against events, particularly family-themed events, including an all-ages drag show. Nobert-DeMarchi says that this affects their very limited budget, particularly because volunteer organizations like most Pride festivals lack the resources and training to handle this kind of hate.
At their annual meeting in March, FCP recognized resisting rising hate as a priority. That led to conversations with the government in mid-March.
Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien cited the StatsCan figures showing that in 2021, there was a 64 percent rise in crimes against members of the LGBTQ2S+ communities.
“We need to wake up to the reality that 2SLGBTQI+ people are facing today,” Ien says. “Now is not the time for any sort of performative allyship. Now is the time for action.”
In providing the $1.5 million to FCP, Ien says, “The government will not stand by while hate and violence week to replace decades of progress.”
While most government funding can take six months to a year to roll out, Ien insists that the funds will flow immediately, in particular because FCP has a process already in place.
“We are able to move quickly to get this funding to Pride organizations because last summer we launched the 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan,” Ien says. “We laid the groundwork to directly support the community, including right now in its time of need.”
With Pride season already started—some, like Winnipeg’s, having already passed—Ien insists that festivals will be able to apply for the funds within days.
While $1.5 million was not allocated in this year’s budget, Ien says it came out of the 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan, meaning it is not new money, but is combined with previously allocated funds from the Equality for Sex, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (Equality for SSOGIE) Program in Women and Gender Equality Canada.
“We’ve been working really hard on this since March, and then followed up in May with the 2SLGBTI+ Secretariat in Canadian Heritage, as well as the department of Public Safety, who met with advocates, and I have as well,” Ien says of the timeline. “This has been ongoing. This didn’t just happen all of a sudden.”
As for whether more funds will flow in future years, Ien is not committing just yet.
“We’ll continue to hear from communities and understand community needs,” Ien says. “This is a response to what is needed right now.”
“Today’s initiative will empower us to assist Pride festivals with practical training, essential resources and capacity-building,” says Nobert-DeMarchi. “With these tools at our disposal, we can collectively respond to the rising tide of hate.”
“I’m extremely grateful to Ministers Ien and [Randy] Boissonnault [minister of tourism and associate finance minister] for a timely response to the concerns that came forward from queer and trans Pride organizations,” adds Fae Johnstone, president of Momentum, a social and gender justice advocacy group for queer and trans people, who also attended the announcement.
“While I welcome the funds made available today, they are a short-term intervention, and while that intervention is necessary, so much more is needed,” Johnstone went on to tweet later in the day. “I encourage the federal government to redouble efforts to combat anti-[LGBTQ2S+] hate, and encourage every province to do so as well.”
Nobert-DeMarchi says that FCP provided micro-grants to smaller Pride organizations around the country for capacity-building in the past, so the infrastructure to distribute these new funds is in place and will be fairly seamless. All Pride festivals can apply, she says, whether or not they are a part of FCP.
There has been criticism that the amount of money announced is not nearly enough.
“Although on the surface, $1.5 million appears like a great step, however, there are over 200 Prides in Canada, which means if divided equally among Prides, this would result in $7,500 each,” said a spokesperson for North Bay Pride in an emailed release. “Our costs outweigh this amount easily.
“In North Bay, our insurance costs are over $2,000, which we have to have, as it’s mandatory,” they continued. “You know Pride Toronto and Montreal Pride will get much more than we would in North Bay, even though we have the similar costs to cover although on a smaller scale to a degree. So at the end of the day rural and smaller Prides get less, but are their risks of violence or bullying any less? No, they are not.”