Toronto the Proud James Hewitt

You’re never without something to do in Toronto over the summer. Practically every weekend offers a different festival or celebration and Toronto Pride Week (Pride) is one of the most significant summertime events.

Pride has continued through garbage strikes and heat waves, after winters filled with SARS, Norwalk or H1N1 outbreaks. After the 2009 market downturn, it helped to re-energise the city while drawing in record numbers of tourists, something that was otherwise seemingly impossible. Last year, thousands poured into Queen’s Park on the final Saturday, including Cyndi Lauper who was playing a free concert. It was a stark contrast to the events transpiring in Queen’s Park during the Saturday of the G20 only a week before. Therefore Pride is a staple of summertime in Toronto. The CNE marks the close of summer and some have come to identify Toronto Pride Week as its beginning, turning over a new and vibrant leaf after a dark and drab winter.

But Pride Week is more than just a festival: it is an annual affirmation born from a history of systemic discrimination and oppression. Cities are the venue for social unrest, including the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City - “Pride’s historical founding event,” according to Dr. Adam Green, Associate Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. Today, Pride is part of summertime in Toronto, but it is really only a little over forty years old. The metropolitan area of Toronto is also a very liberal and diversified centre to an otherwise homogeneous exterior, and while some may have questioned the event’s current purpose, its continued necessity and significance become very clear the more you venture outside of the city.

In his interview with the newspaper, Dr. Green provided some insight regarding the movement’s background. It resulted from the Stonewall Riots sparked by a police-lead morning raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in late June of 1969 (which is also why the annual celebration is generally held around the last weekend of June, thus seemingly kicking off summer).

Dr. Green briefly summarised the original objectives. “’Pride’... is meant to affirm the lives and lifestyle choices of people who identify as something other than ‘heterosexual’. Some of the original activists who organized shortly after the riots saw the lesbian and gay movement as an affirmation of all kinds of possibilities for intimate life, including those not well captured by ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’... Some of these activists believed that categories of sexual orientation were themselves too limiting and that sexual identity and pleasure need not be anchored to categories, be they sex (male / female) or sexual (straight / gay), but to love and sexual freedom. Most, however, saw the lesbian and gay movement in less radical terms, as a movement supporting the rights and lifestyles of gay and lesbian people.”

Dr. Green continued to remark on the evolution of the Pride movement in the last forty years. “Since 1969, activists, scholars and movement leaders began to think about how the categories ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ did not represent the full gamut of people who face adverse social conditions as a consequence of their sexual and gender identities and practices. Subsequently, Pride has expanded to include a very wide diversity of those for whom the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’, or ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ fail to describe them. This includes bisexual, transgender, intersexed, among others. In total, ‘queer’ has become the oft used umbrella term to describe those who do not assimilate to the ‘normal’, ‘heteronormative’, social order. Hence, Pride today represents taking pride in one’s queerness.”

Toronto puts a lot into preparing for Pride Week. The signs of the upcoming celebration are all over the city. For example, every year the ROM celebrates by flying the Pride flag over its Bloor Street exterior. This may now seem natural, almost taken for granted to some or even considered pageantry to others. Others still may be so accustomed to this that they just stroll by without even a second thought. However, Toronto is proudly displaying the internationally recognized symbol for Pride on its own structural representations like the ROM and CN Tower, “[attesting] to the formal recognition of Toronto’s sexual diversity.”

The final parade route indicates the border of the Church-Wellesley gay village, while keeping Church Street open for general festivities during Pride weekend. This is a testament to the importance of the event to our city. While not nearly as long as the Santa Clause Parade, the Pride parade draws in almost the same number of people on a fraction of the surface area thus resulting in a much denser environment -- one that has generally remained peaceful. The final parade travels mainly on Yonge from Gerrard to Bloor, thus covering one of the more heavily populated sections of one of Toronto’s main streets. This includes the Yonge and Bloor intersection – one of the most highly trafficked areas of the city and a key shopping district, especially on a long weekend. It is not tucked away in an obscure corner, but front and centre on the city-stage.

Pride 2011, which ran from June 24th until July 3rd was not without scandal. Most notable was the conspicuous absence of Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, from the final Pride parade (though the Mayor did proclaim the ten day period as “Pride Week” prior to the event). While this is not a formally mandated mayoral obligation, it was nonetheless at the very least, a disappointment that our Mayor chose not to attend. Ignoring the event is to deny its importance which calls to question Mayor Ford’s very grasp of, or interest in, our civic culture. The mayor’s excuse was really pathetic. It was a snub in no way worthy of the event which he was snubbing, an event whose motto is: “You Belong.” However, despite the absentee Mayor, Pride 2011 was once again a fantastic event culminating in an epic closing weekend which drew in almost 2 million people.

Toronto will be happily hosting the 2014 World Pride Event, and according to Professor Green, “Canada has become a world leader in supporting rights for queer people, including lesbians and gays, but also transgender folks. This includes the passage of a federal same-sex marriage policy, and financial support for sex reassignment surgery covered in some provincial health insurance entitlements. With a relatively high proportion of immigrants, Toronto itself represents a safe haven for social diversity.” Toronto Pride Week has come to be an important part of our city’s culture, and an integral part of summertime in Toronto. The slogan for Pride 2011 was “You Belong.” insert punchy sentence here! sentiment that cannot better express our civic culture.

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