Toronto Pride Rains Down!

by JC Alvarez
Thursday Jul 7, 2011

The North American Royal Visit of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, a/k/a Kate Middleton, who brought impeccable fashion sense, wasn’t the only newsworthy byte making the airwaves over the Canada Day holiday weekend: The future queen’s visit appropriately coincided with Toronto’s Gay Pride celebration. An impressive week full of activities, including festivals, marches and rallies culminated in a weekend of dances into the dusk. Toronto Gay Pride is largely well known as one of the world’s most well attended Pride events drawing more than a million spectators to the parade alone.... and plenty of once and future queens!

Lots and Lots to Celebrate!

The series of events took the Toronto Gay Pride committee practically a year to put together. Francisco Alvarez, the chair of the upcoming World Pride event in 2014, also to be hosted in Toronto, admitted that, although the city was in the midst of this year’s party, plans we already underway for next year.

Unlike most spectacles of this magnitude the city of Toronto works to coincide its week of Pride activities conveniently to fit in with the national independence holiday of Canada Day (July 1) and the observance of the pivotal events at Stonewall, which many mark as the cornerstone of the Gay Civil Rights Movement.

Although very much a world city, Toronto’s charm lies in its also conveying the small-town feel of a provincial town. As a visitor from New York, my joy was enhanced by reveling not only in the enjoyment of friendly goodwill of a major city celebrating its Pride, but also in the passage that very Friday (and quick signing into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo) of New York’s Marriage Equality bill.

Walker in the City

Anyone visiting this huge metropolis can benefit from the walking tours provided by Toronto Queer Walking Tours and its local historian Bruce Bell, both of which helped me understand the cultural connection with our northern neighbors.

Liz Devine, president of Rainbow High Vacations, was also present for the walking tour through Toronto’s "Gay Village," oriented at Church and Wellesley. Liz imparted the gay historical resonance of the walk and emotionally illustrated the lengths to which the Toronto LGBT community has gone to defend themselves and win their civil rights.

Similarly motivated to organize and defend their community, the Gay Civil Rights movement in Toronto was inspired by an incident referred to as the 1981 Bathhouse Riots. In the dead of winter, local police stormed a popular Toronto bathhouse -- at the time, one of the secured safe havens where gays went to congregate.

Causing unnecessary property damage, and assaulting the patrons, officers dragged men out of the establishment. Some were clad only in towels. The police bloodied and beat them onto the cold snow covered streets.

In that moment, no longer would Toronto’s LGBT community be relegated to the intolerance, scorn and prejudice of a system that deemed them as deviants or second-class citizens. Leaders arose and protests began. When confronted by well-armed, riot-ready police who were determined to disperse the demonstrators making their way up Yonge Street expecting a fight, gay activists all sat down along the path instead. Knowing the world was watching, the police could not act against what immediately had become a peaceful and defiant demonstration.

This is all recent history and although incredible strides have been achieved to guarantee fair and equal rights, Toronto, like most cities, recognizes the need not to accept complacency and to continue the work necessary to further the movement.


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