Vancouver Pride will learn from mistakes, says outgoing president

VPS ends fiscal year with money in the bank

Nathaniel Christopher Xtra [Vancouver, B.C.]
John Whistler (left to right), Darius Burbidge and Bruce Antecol joined the Vancouver Pride Society’s board of directors at its annual general meeting April 30, 2016. (New directors not pictured: Michelle Fortin and Rhawnie Vallins, who were not at the meeting.)
Photo: Nathaniel Christopher

The past year saw “very significant issues and challenges” for the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS), outgoing president Tim Richards told members at the organization’s annual general meeting April 30, 2016.

“In some instances we spent money to bring professional people in to help us,” he says, “and we use that information, that knowledge and their expertise to do things better.”

Each season, the VPS’ volunteer board and employees are learning, he says. “So we never get it right, and things go off the rails without a doubt, but I can tell you that we’re committed to learning our lessons and applying that learning year over year. So whatever that event is, whatever that issue is, we’re taking actions to ensure we don’t repeat those mistakes.”

In 2015, the VPS grappled with the resignation of one board member (Tim Ell) and several staff departures, including executive director Ray Lam, parade coordinator Bry Leckie, communications coordinator Cynthia Williams, and volunteer coordinator Melody Johnson, who says she was fired last July.

Johnson filed a human rights complaint against the VPS, which was mediated in March 2016 and “appropriately resolved,” according to the VPS. (Johnson hasn’t replied to Daily Xtra’s request for comment.)

“The VPS acknowledges that an unfortunate set of circumstances caused some painful misunderstandings to develop,” the VPS said in a statement released April 27, 2016, three days before its annual general meeting.

“The VPS will be working constructively with Melody to improve its policies to better support future employees,” the statement says. “Cooperation and goodwill between the parties has now allowed this matter to be concluded and both parties have mutually agreed to look forward and not comment publicly any further.”

“I’m sure all of you are aware, we had a human rights complaint and so we had engaged professional services outside to come in and help us through the process,” Richards told attendees at the annual general meeting.

In part due to those professional services, the VPS saw a jump in its legal and professional services last year, which rose from $10,103 in 2014 to $52,407 in 2015.

Richards says this was also due, in part, to the audit required by VPS bylaws whenever a treasurer changes.

Overall, the VPS ended the 2015 fiscal year with an operational deficit of $46,429, and $124,773 in the bank.

This is a marked decrease from its surplus of $135,595 at the end of 2014. 

The biggest decrease in revenue came from in-kind support of donated goods and services, such as free advertisements in media outlets, and food and t-shirts for volunteers.

 In 2015, the VPS reported $279,200 in in-kind revenue, compared to $476,550 in 2014.

“Depending on the year, the housekeeping on how it’s reported changes dramatically, so some years we find people we are working with at different media outlets were better at providing estimates at what the in-kind amount is, and certainly we saw a fluctuation in that number,” Richards says. 

Despite the shortfalls in revenue in some areas, the VPS saw an increase in event revenue overall, which climbed by almost $40,000 from $432,898 in 2014 to $472,340 in 2015.

But the Davie Street Dance Party once again lost money, $19,655 in 2015. Richards says that’s a result of set-up, liquor and labour costs.

“It’s expensive so we’re working with our partners now on Davie Street to figure out how we can partner with them on a little bit different model than how we do that,” he says, noting that 2015 also marked the first fence-free Davie Street Dance Party.

“We’ve been evolving the event and ensuring that it’s more accessible to everyone in our community,” he says.

VPS members also voted in the most significant overhauls to the society’s bylaws since 2012 to better reflect the organization’s transition in the last few years from a working board to a direction-setting governance board that hires paid staff to run day-to-day affairs.

 “We spoke to employment and labour experts and people who work in non-profits and governance, and we put together a list of some of the changes we needed to make to bring the organization up to the way it operates today,” explains returning board member Charmaine de Silva.

Members voted to reduce the size of the board from 12 to 10 directors and replace the positions of president and vice-president with two co-chairs.

The executive director will also sit as a non-voting member.

 “That was a recommendation made by other organizations to increase communication between board and staff,” de Silva says. “So it’s not seen as one versus the other but to ensure everyone is working together to move the organization forward.”

Board members will now be subject to term limits as well. Co-chairs will be limited to two consecutive terms of three years each, and other directors will be limited to three terms of two years each.

“Put those together and the maximum amount of time anyone can serve on the board is 12 years in total,” de Silva says.

The most heated discussion for debate on the agenda was the VPS bylaw which mandates the society’s president have one identification within the LGBT community and the vice president another.

Vice president Chrissy Taylor said the existing bylaw allows for both positions to be held by cisgender men. “It doesn’t actually ensure gender parity because it says you need to have two different identifications in the LGBTTQ community,” she explains “You could still end up having two cisgender men if one identifies as gay and one identifies as bi.”

Taylor proposed an amendment, which was defeated, that would have required the positions of co-chair be held by people of two different gender identities.

Former VPS president Shawn Ewing pointed out the composition of the board is ultimately up to voting members and not the bylaws. 

“If the membership wanted to put in two gay cis men and they were a majority of the people who sat in the room to do that —sadly as it is —I would have to say that’s the way it’s going to be,” she says.

Returning director Alan Jernigan, who was not in attendance at the meeting, was elected president, and Taylor continues her term as vice president. The board will discuss their new titles as co-chairs at the next meeting. 

Directors Bernard Leclair, Rick Leonovich, Azza Rojbi, Nicola Spurling and de Silva return to complete their two-year terms. They are joined by new directors Bruce Antecol, Darius Burbidge (who will become treasurer), Michelle Fortin, Rhawnie Vallins and John Whistler.

I am a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, who has been blogging here for nearly 25 years. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings on my own online platform. From 1998 until 2017, I worked as a journalist, and I have posted most of my articles in the 'News' section of this website.