Monday, November 19, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC

Starbucks Inc and Pride in Conflict

The Pride Society Annual general meeting was held on Saturday, November 17, 2007 and as expected a good turn-out assembled. The meeting was a record breaking five hours, which is far too long. Many contentious by-law changes were proposed and these changes should not have been added to the agenda. In fact, the membership overwhelmingly voted to have these proposals moved off to a special meeting in January 2008. Although the first by-law proposal change of restricting membership, failed.

Now to the juicy stuff.

The Pride society has been rocked by serious allegations and numerous resignations the past few years. The membership of Pride, in fact, at the AGM in 2006, moved a motion to censure the Board. It easily passed. Certainly not a ringing endorsement.

At the meeting in 2006, a number of new directors were elected and many of them shortly after taking office--resigned--often citing a lack of respect and mean-spiritness at board meetings.

Matters came to a screeching halt when it was revealed that Pride had not registered the society for two years. A special meeting was held to correct the problem. This failure to report has been addressed.

Problems though continue to erupt at Pride. Pettiness & Nastiness and the Corporatization of Pride are continuous unresolved issues and the board appears unable to reconcile these grave concerns of the membership.

The latest actions though by the Pride board may well deliver a fatal blow to the smooth operations of Pride.

The Pride board, in an effort to deny a member the right to vote at the AGM on Saturday, used the only clause in the by-laws available to them.

The only method of restricting member rights and their right to vote is, to claim, the member owes an outstanding debt to the society. In fact, the member-in-question, who also happened to be the immediate past secretary-treasurer of Pride, is alleging he doesn't owe any funds to the Society, even though the Society claims he does.

No question, there is conflict between this member and the Leadership of Pride. The Pride board alleged he held in his possession, $290.00 worth of memberships, which had been turned over to him, by the Membership Chair, who had tendered his resignation.

As the Treasurer, he was obligated to receive these memberships. At this point, apparently lots of bad blood was taking place between him and certain other executives. He, allegedly made attempts, on a number of occasions to turn the memberships and fees over to another board member. This was met without success, or at least according to the member.

He claims the membership fees were turned over to a third party. The third party was the legal firm offices of Dahl and Connors. The office of Dahl and Connors is across the hall from the Pride office. Moreover, it has been stated that Dahl and Connors hold official and legal records for the Pride society. This claim though has not been proven.

At the AGM on Saturday, members of Pride were informed this member had a voting paddle and wasn't entitled to it. This blogwriter asked for discussion on this matter and open debate happened. The member stated his case and the Pride board stated theirs.

This issue will go unresolved until the member is re-instated. It will continue to be a tempest in a teapot.

With the above mentioned, Pride continues down a slippery path. Instead of bringing community together, petty divisions are created and this must stop.

Already Pride is immersed in turmoil regarding the Community vs Corporate aspects of Pride.

There is growing consensus out there that Pride is being earmarked primarily for tourists, corporations and families. Community is being lost as we see the proliferation of Gay for a Day businesses in the parade. The increasing reliance on corporate entities to fund Pride is really problematic.

Here is an example.

At the AGM, members were informed that Starbucks Inc, which is already a Pride financial sponsor, is now supplying 80 volunteers to Pride from among its staff. A question was raised at the meeting whether these staff are being paid. The answer from Ken Coolen, who is the Pride Treasurer and a Manager at Starbucks, is No.

The issue of whether employees are being paid isn't what is at stake here.

The conflict arises because employees at Starbucks are being asked to volunteer at Pride by their employer, who gains a significant benefit because of their sponsorship.

This raises a couple of ethical questions. Are Starbucks employees being mis-used by their Employer since their Employer gleans the benefit of their contributions to Pride? Plus, are Starbucks employees in a compromised position since they are being requested by their Employer, who holds power over them, to provide free volunteer time to Pride? What happens if they say No?

Ken Coolen, who as mentioned previously is a Manager of Starbucks and the Pride treasurer and even though he may not vote at Pride on Starbucks issues, the perception of being in a conflict remains. He must step down as an executive table officer at Pride to clear up any perception of conflict-of-interest.

Another serious issue of conflict of interest at Pride is bubbling to the surface.

The Vancouver Pride Executive has taken out membership in InterPride, a Texas, USA, based for-profit company. Membership to InterPride is based on the gross income of the participating agency. Fees must also be paid in US dollars.

At no time was the Pride membership asked whether we wanted to belong to InterPride. Our membership fees are going south to an organization which we have no control over. It is in dispute whether we receive any benefit at all by belonging to this organization.

A number of Pride executives are involved in the regional committee of this group and Vancouver Pride funds are being used for their involvement. This is a major no-no since the purpose of the Vancouver Pride society states clearly under Section 3 of our constitution, "The purposes will be carried out on an exclusively charitable basis".

There is a deep conflict since InterPride bases membership on for-profit margins. Moreover, individuals cannot belong to this organization and therefore any Pride executive member participating by using Vancouver Pride funds would be in direct conflict-of-interest.

Lastly, Pride is supposed to be about members of the Queer community embracing, celebrating and proudly displaying our achievements, history, community and even our losses.

Unfortunately every year there seems to be less emphasis on this aspect and more on the commercialization of Pride. This commercial angle does not unite the community, in fact, it's creating major divisions.

If there isn't a drastic change, expect there to be two major Pride celebrations in this City. That would be indeed a tragedy, however, without appropriate responsive and accountable leadership, this is exactly where we are heading.

Jamie Lee Hamilton