Former NDP whip takes lead of embattled Pride Centre of Edmonton

Estefania Cortes-Vargas is the new executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton.

Estefania Cortes-Vargas hopes to be a driving force that helps bring the LGBT+ community together

Estefania Cortes-Vargas is the new executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton. (Thandiwe Konguavi/CBC)

Estefania Cortes-Vargas is the new executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton.

The appointment of the former Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA was announced Wednesday. 

Following calls for restructuring at the centre this year over allegations of racism and transphobia, Cortes-Vargas hopes to help unite a divided LGBT+ community in the city. 

"I have to take it as an opportunity to really build some bridges and reaffirm some trust with community members," Cortes-Vargas said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Wednesday. 

There's a new Executive Director for the Pride Centre of Edmonton. We'll hear how they hope to mend divisions in the LGBTQ community. 10:48

"I think that conversations about race are difficult to have. And I think that, in that instance, I absolutely can be a driving force in creating these bridges and having real conversations."

Elected in 2015, Cortes-Vargas was one of the three first openly LGBT+ MLAs in the Alberta legislature and served as the party's whip. The former MLA did not seek re-election in the spring election. 

New board

The centre has undergone a complete overhaul, with a newly elected board. 

Shay Lewis, a transgender person of colour whose firing as the gender minority outreach co-ordinator in March was a catalyst to the resignation of the previous executive director Quinn Posch, is now a board member. 

Lewis welcomed the hiring of the Colombia-born politician.

"I think one of the most amazing things about Estefania as an individual is just sitting down with them and speaking to them, you can really pick up on the amount of empathy that they have, the amount of passion that they have and the way that those interplay," said Lewis.

Cortes-Vargas said the centre will be reviewing its HR policies.

"Just given the context that kind of led to all of these things spiralling," said Cortes-Vargas. 

The centre will also be reviewing its programs and services from an intersectional lens.

"The fact that I am also part of the Hispanic community in Edmonton and I'm an immigrant as well … I have experiences that make me really, really empathetic and really just knowledgeable about the complexities of having so many different intersections meet," said Cortes-Vargas.

Cortes-Vargas plans to keep an eye on the impact of United Conservative Party policies concerning LGBT+ youth, but hopes to work with the government moving forward.

"In my position as the government whip I had relationships with many of the members of the now-UCP government, and I've always just been a person that just really wants to get the work done," said Cortes-Vargas. "And I will be working with all levels of government and we'll find a way to build, have conversations with them as well."

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca. Follow her on Twitter @cbcthandiwe.

With files from Sheena Rossiter and Fakiha Baig


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