Can you recall the moment you decided to run for a position on Pride's board, what made you decide to toss in your hat?
Last year was one of the worst recorded for police murders of black men in the USA. It was also the year that BLM garnered headlines for their efforts in bringing these and other injustices to light. Then the Pulse Nightclub murders took place less than a month before Toronto Pride. As a black gay man, these acts of violence, many in far away cities, hit home. But it was the largely visceral reaction to BLM-Toronto after they staged their sit-in to bring to light injustices they saw happening within our own Pride festival, halting last year's parade, that spurred me to run for a position on the Pride Toronto Board. My initial reaction to this bold action was why. Why was this done? As invited guests who were given the honour of leading the parade I, like some, could not understand it. A group that Pride considered allies (or wished to align themselves with) was, in some people's eyes, turning around and attacking Pride itself. This is where the conversation ended for many. But I still did not have my answers. For me the conversation continued. And continues to this day.
I have been a part of the queer community for over twenty years. I have marched in many parades with many different groups (both corporate and community), but the one thing that always remained the same was that we were all marching, dancing, celebrating, protesting together as one. We were Pride. We are Pride. So to have a group choose, or be forced, to take such actions against Pride was unthinkable to some and made me wonder what was really going on. I wanted to figure out why BLM-Toronto (or any group) would have to go to such lengths (some called the sit-in brilliant, others called it a blunder) to have their voice heard. I decided to run for the board, two days after that Parade. I wanted, needed, to be one of the people who questions, with an open heart, these reasons. I wanted to be one of the people on the board to acknowledge, with an open mind (a mind that, through my years of journalistic work has been shaped by my involvement with every segment of our queer community to some degree) the experiences of others. I wanted to be on the board to ensure that all members of Toronto's queer community are heard. All members. Not just those most vocal. Pride has evolved since 1981. Where politics once dominated, celebration has taken over. But Pride is and always will be political. But its policies should not be destroying itself. Pride represents a diverse membership. But it has always been about coming together. The more we build walls, the less likely we are to cross bridges. As a black gay man, who has always felt welcomed, connected and involved with my queer city and to Pride since day one, I want to ensure that others unlike me (and like me), can experience Pride proudly for what it was meant to be.
I've been attending Toronto Pride for a number of years, and it wasn't until last year when I truly recognized that something is wrong with the way decisions are being made. There is a problem when we have members of our own community speaking up about the decisions of Pride Toronto, and being continuously ignored and disregarded, and then being met with violent pushback – from within our own community. It's not okay that we continually prioritize Pride as a time to party, but refuse to make space for our community groups who do amazing work all year round. I definitively appreciate Pride as a time to celebrate and have a good time, but there is an important balance we need to be better at achieving, so everyone feels welcome and included. It's time that we start listening to each other, and make decisions that really focus on the ways we can make our community stronger.
I have been involved with Pride Toronto since my first visit in 1998 when I was coming out and marched in my first Sunday parade. I have returned every year adding the Dyke March and Trans March to my list of events. In 2004 I shared the City of Toronto Pride Award with Pride Toronto and began to collaborate on including trans communities into their strategic plan and events. Over the years I have served on the Free Zone, Dyke March, Trans Pride committees, advised the board and executive directors before joining the board in 2011.
I sit at the crux of many marginalized intersectionalities and while I'm quite outspoken; I've always felt like an outsider looking in. What changed my mind was a conversation with my 9 yr old while reading the book A is for Activism - I explained that she that it is not only her right but her duty to do everything and anything within her ability to ensure she affect the changes that are needed to support the most marginalized" It was then, I realized that the words I gave voice to was something the little girl in me needed to hear aloud.
In the last year, Pride has returned to its roots of social justice and of being a means for communities to advocate for themselves. With the protest by Black Lives Matter, and as demonstrated in the community meeting last year, folks from marginalized groups are seeking to be heard and to have their voices validated by Pride Toronto. These examples of courage and strength have given me the motivation to apply for the board. My career has been devoted to social justice and advocacy work in the region of Peel at front-line, agency, and community levels, and when the opportunity arose to become a Pride Toronto board member, I saw the opportunity to represent not only my own voices but also the voices of the communities I serve.
After the last Pride general meeting that I attended I saw how entrenched some positions had become and I thought that my "lack of Pride baggage" might help to bridge those gaps. I really want to serve this incredible movement that has provided a tremendous platform for international LGBT activists and activism.
Kenneth M. Tong
A couple of years ago, I had to go on a work-related trip which meant not attending World Pride in Toronto. When I saw all my friends' posts on social media, I knew that missed something special, and I wished I could've been part of it all. Then, last year I marched with my team in the parade and after all the events of the day, I watched the news reports and thought I could've been of some help. So when I saw the call for candidates, I stepped forward.
As a board member what is the one legacy you'd like to have left behind after your term is over?
I'm not big on legacies. Things change and are altered. If something I do (like negotiating a way queer police officers can participate in the Parade) gets abandoned later I have no problem with that. I simply want to ensure that Pride happens. That it moves forward responsibly. Without leaving anyone by the side of the road. That it happens for as many people as possible. If everyone can enjoy Pride the way I did my first Pride over 20 years ago, as we rode through the suburbs of Toronto waiving rainbow flags out the window, yelling "Happy Pride", to everyone on the street, I'll be happy. That is legacy enough.
In all honesty, leaving behind a legacy after my term isn't my primary focus. I think too often people are interested in these types of roles for self-serving reasons, and personally my number one priority will be listening and taking direction directly from the community. So if there is anything I hope to contribute to during my time as a Board member, if elected, it will be finding ways to open up the lines of communication and ensuring our decision making is as transparent and accountable as possible. An organization like Pride Toronto is made stronger when we have more voices, more experiences and more people, particularly those that are marginalized, engaged and supported. Hopefully that is something I can ensure is prioritized as a member of the Board.
With my legacy intact on community and political contributions I have recently pondered plying my skills once again especially in this challenging landscape. In my service with Fierté Canada Pride and InterPride as a Pride Toronto delegate, I understand that the pride movement is critical and must persevere. It was however the recent United States election of an unfriendly president that convinced me this was indeed the time to step up and support Pride Toronto. I hope that we can shine a light so bright on LGBTQ rights that become a beacon of hope in a time of potential darkness.
My legacy would be one of reclamation. My slogan for this nomination is Reclaim Your Pride. My community (Black, Queer & Trans, differently abled, sex working, immigrant, racialized, poor and working class, parents) has felt for a long time that there has been a lost, a disconnect with what Pride is now and what it should be. It is my singular goal to correct that.
I hope to achieve a difference in the way community is represented in Pride Toronto. For most of my career, I have helped marginalized queer and trans youth to decrease stigma, discrimination, and mental health-related illness due to identity. During my legacy on the board, I aspire to bring my voice and the voices of the communities I work with to the forefront. I hope that the inclusion of these voices will be a catalyst for change in the areas of community engagement and understanding of mental health challenges. I hope to inspire the board to view community voices, especially those who are marginalized, as having equal weight for Pride Toronto
Toronto is truly an international city and I want to see an institutionalization of a significant portion of Pride Toronto's resources dedicated to supporting LGBT liberation efforts across the globe.
Kenneth M. Tong
As a board member, I'd like to see Pride Toronto as a dynamic community centre point, well-equipped to address the challenges of the day, and taking its leadership role as the most diverse and inclusive of the pride celebrations around the world.
Pride Toronto AGM -
Tuesday January 17, 2017 -
Ryerson University Upper Gym -
31 Gerrard Street East at 6:30pm