10 Things We Learned at Pride Toronto
Pride Toronto just wrapped up a weekend of revelry that took over several blocks in the downtown core with seven full stages of entertainment programming. As in previous years, nearly one million people attended. It was a fantastic spectacle of frivolity, happiness, openness and acceptance reflecting every color of the rainbow. Here’s a glimpse at what we were able to take in over three fantastic days.
1. Entertainment: With seven full stages of programming there’s bound to be something for everyone. Two of the biggest crowd draws of the weekend were by “allies” of the LGBT community. Both Bif Naked's show on Friday and Corey Hart's set on Saturday were highly anticipated and hugely successful in terms of filling up the beer gardens, which in turn help to fund future Pride events. Bif Naked opened with one her infamous single, “Spaceman,” while Hart knocked off his '80s mega-hit “Sunglasses At Night” before jumping into his latest remixed release of “Truth Will Set U Free,” a song written specifically for the gay community back in the '80s yet never released as a single until this year.
2. Donation and Stickers: Another creative way of generating revenue for this large-scale free event is via donations, specifically requesting a “toonie,” which is a Canadian two-dollar coin. For each donation, festival attendees can choose a sticker to decorate themselves with, such as Bi, Trans, Str, Top, Kinky, or my personal choice for the weekend, Slut. It became quite fun trying to spot who was daring enough to wear what, all in the spirit of freedom of expression and sexuality.
3. Parade and Marches: While a large majority of attendees show up for the huge Pride Parade on the Sunday afternoon, there’s a decent bunch that shows up for the more political Dyke March on the Saturday, and a relatively small contingent that shows up for the more recently introduced Trans March on the Friday evening. The major difference between the three is that the Trans March is basically about politics and activism, the Dyke March maintains a majority of this as well with a few fun themes tossed in, while the three hour Pride Parade is all about floats and corporate sponsorship for the most part, which again helps pay the bills of the organization. I met one guy who attended his first Dyke March and commented how he liked it so much more than the actual Parade, and was ashamed he hadn’t been before.
4. Costumes and Outfits: It’s not only parade participants who dress up, as everyone plans out their attire weeks in advance of the big weekend. This can range from sky reaching wigs, face paint and elaborate frocks to the minimalistic tassels and thong look, while others choose to bare it all. It’s a smorgasbord of provocative, alternative, glamour, and gutter, yet it all seems to work and pretty much everyone gets into the spirit in one way or another. I chose the more mainstream shorts and tee look, accessorized by a cap and my Slut sticker.
5. Community Focus: While Pride Toronto is one of the largest in the world, organizers still try to keep a sense of community focus as part of the overall festival. There are specific areas for families, those in sobriety, transgendered individuals, marginalized groups, community organizations and the disabled. The 519 Community Centre on Church Street also holds their annual Pride parties in the park, which are always packed. A dedicated team of volunteers are what make this all happen, and they can be seen everywhere day and night making sure everything is running smoothly. I met so many smiling volunteers, and took a moment to thank several of them for their time and commitment in making Pride Toronto the success it is year after year.
6. Visitors Love Toronto: Pride Toronto is a boom for Toronto tourism, with people coming in from all parts of the world. I met people from Australia, Europe, the far northern reaches of Canada, and all parts of the U.S. The common conversation was always how friendly everyone they met was. It truly is a festival where many new friendships are developed. I always enjoy hearing how people make comparisons between other cities and their Pride events, and say how Toronto’s festival far surpasses all others. Smiles all around.
7. Pride Parade: For those who have never attended a Pride Toronto event before, this is the p-èce de résistance for the uninitiated. Beginning shortly after noon at the far north end of the encompassed area, the floats begin streaming down Toronto’s main through fare, Yonge Street. There’s a plethora of colors, an abundance of exposed skin, groups and organizations from every walk of life, politicians and punks, and enough wigs to fill a football stadium. Three hours later, it winds itself around Carlton Street culminating at the southern end of Church Street, the epicenter of all things gay and happy. One highlight was when the float carrying a just wed male couple went by to hoots and hollers from the sidelines.
8. Nearly all of Toronto joined in on the fun: For the veteran attendees and others in the know, there’s literally hundreds of other Pride related events spread out across the city, both official and unofficial. Many dance clubs, bars and even restaurants get into the spirit with special programming, themed menus, and rainbow decorations. While the west end of the city held the majority of these at places like both the Drake and Gladstone Hotels, The Garrison and the Henhouse, Wayla Bar on the eastside delivered a solid alternative to the masses, while The Guvernment went wild catering to the DJ induced circuit crowd.
9. Global Focus: Each year Pride Toronto selects an International Grand Marshal (IGM) to reflect the focus on global human rights. This year it was human rights activist Goran Miletić from Belgrade, Serbia, for his dedicated work in South Eastern Europe and Western Balkan States. The annual appointment of the IGM is part of Pride Toronto’s “Global Human Rights for Queers: What OUT is About” program. Now in its seventh year, the ‘What OUT is About’ program raises awareness of human rights issues that still occur around the world toward the LGBT community.
10. World Pride 2014: In two years Toronto will be the host city for World Pride 2014, the first time this event will happen off the European continent. Plans are already underway as to how to prepare for an estimated increase of a quarter million additional attendees to the city, and all the specialized programming that will undoubtedly be part of this historic event. From what I have seen during my three days this year, I think this city is more than ready to welcome the world, but I can’t imagine how the overall vibe and costumes can get any grander.