Pride Centre of Edmonton addresses allegations of racism, transphobia

The Pride Centre of Edmonton is facing calls to restructure the organization amid allegations of a racist and transphobic culture, according to the executive director.

Board of directors absent at meeting organized by executive director

Shay Lewis was fired as the Pride Centre's gender minority outreach coordinator in March. It generated a social media firestorm, pushing the executive director to respond to allegations that the centre has created a culture of racism and transphobia. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The Pride Centre of Edmonton is facing calls to restructure the organization amid allegations of a racist and transphobic culture, according to the executive director.

The notable LGBTQ not-for-profit has been under scrutiny after Shay Lewis, a transgender person of colour, was fired as the gender minority outreach coordinator in March.

Members of the LGBTQ community and its allies have flooded the centre's Facebook page with comments denouncing the decision.

Other comments also claim the organization lacks representation in staffing and programming. 

The comments pushed executive director Quinn Posch to organize a meeting on Saturday to address concerns that the centre is not representing Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).

Posch recently announced he will not seek a second term when his year-long contract expires at the end of August.

"I came in really hopeful that we could make changes that would make the centre safer and more welcoming," Posch said.

"While we've done some good things, we clearly haven't done enough. In that time, I realized that perhaps I'm not the person to take us to the next stage."

Board of directors asked to step down

While the centre replaced Lewis with a staff member who identifies as an Indigenous, trans, two-spirit person, there are no trans or non-binary people sitting on the centre's board of directors, Posch said.

There is only one non-white board member, he added.

None of the centre's seven board of directors attended Saturday's meeting.

The board is responsible for choosing Posch's replacement when his term ends. Posch urged all members of the board to consider stepping down to make room for "more diverse representation" ahead of the general meeting in June.

Lewis reiterated Posch's sentiment. 

For any type of real change to happen, the centre has to create a more diverse board, one with less power, or one more connected to the community, the former staff member said. 

"What I experienced as an external member of the board was extreme dismissal of my point of view because it is not reflective of the board's as a whole," Lewis said after attending Saturday's meeting.

"While I can understand why it's very hard to empathize with experiences that one doesn't have, you think that would be essential to running a board that represented a very wide and diverse community."

Firing leads to demands  

Posch hired Lewis in January to run the centre's gender minority programming. Lewis, who uses they/them pronouns, said they started expanding trans support programs at the centre, and initiated a partnership with Queerflex, a LGBTQ-friendly gym.

Then, in early March, Posch handed Lewis a termination notice with no explanation, Lewis said.

"It was very shocking and surprising for me. It was extremely hurtful," they said.

Posch declined to comment on the decision, citing his lawyer's advice and noting Lewis' contract was terminated during the probation period.

It was very shocking and surprising for me. It was extremely hurtful- Shay Lewis, former Pride Centre of Edmonton employee

A list of demands has also circulated on social media, attributed to Aakhil Lakhani, in the wake of Lewis' firing.

It calls on the centre to ensure at least a third of the staff and board of directors are racialized people.

The list also pushes for an investigation into "insidious racism" in the pride centre's programming and operations.

"I think some of the biggest issues stem from the fact the pride centre hasn't really put a significant amount of effort into trying to get folks of colour to invest in the centre," Lewis said.

"They haven't put a significant amount of effort into trying to attract programs around folks of colour."

Posch said the centre's programming serves all members of the LGBTQ community, but acknowledged the centre doesn't offer a lot of programming geared specifically toward people of colour. 

"Each of our programs serves every member of our community, including BIPOC, and the program that currently is directed exclusively at BIPOC is our LGBTQ refugees support program in partnership with the [Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers]," Posch said. 

Executive Director Quinn Posch said he asked the Pride Centre of Edmonton's board of directors to step down ahead of the next annual general meeting. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The centre has used its charitable status to secure funding for both the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society and Shades of Colour, an organization that works with queer and trans people of colour, Posch said.

But Simone A Medina Polo, a local trans artist, said the centre needs to create education programming that looks at racism and colonialism in the LGBTQ community.

"We need to ask what it means to restructure the whole organization to make it accessible to everyone that's involved in it," she said.