WorldPride 2014 Toronto

WorldPride Toronto
Sunday June 29th, 2014

by Kathy Hui

According to WorldPride Toronto’s website, Pride celebrations have been going on in Toronto for more than 30 years, but were not officially recognized by City Council until 1991. Since then, Toronto’s Pride has grown to a week-long event. This year’s festivities continued over a week and half and marked the first time any North American city has hosted a Pride party with international status. The global recognition of the event drew thousands from all over the world, with many Toronto media outlets estimating more than a million spectators attending. About 12, 000 participants marched in the parade and I was one of them. I was given VIP access and permission to tag along for the day with Toronto’s Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who was the city’s acting mayor while Rob Ford remained in rehab – with Ford’s return scheduled for June 30th.

The colourful day began at 11am with a church service (yes, a church service) on Church Street. The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto held the outdoor service on a stage in a gated parking lot, which was free to the public. In attendance were a who’s who of Canadian politics, including Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau (whose father Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau led the decriminalization of homosexual acts back in the late 60’s), Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her partner Jane, several current and past members of Toronto City Council, as well as leading mayoral candidates (running against Ford) John Tory and Olivia Chow. Also in attendance was Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who in 2005, was the first police chief to participate in the Pride parade. As the big wigs were being introduced, I couldn’t help but try to snap shots of them standing and waving to the crowds behind them.

However, what really stood out was the standing ovation that all politicians gave to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly as he was introduced. He humbly shook hands with those beside him and saluted towards the stage. The service began with lots of joyous singing and church members’ sharing their stories. It then moved swiftly to the sermon by this year’s Grand Marshall of the parade, Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, pioneer gay rights activist in Toronto. His sermon was powerful and passionate, communicating messages of acceptance and activism for the LGBTQ community. His words were strong and inclusive at the same time, encouraging politicians and everyone present to “Rise Up!” (this year’s Pride theme) particularly for transgendered citizens and their rights. It was a melding of Christianity and LGBTQ pride and activism that I had never witnessed before. His words, “Be angry, yet sin not” came out loud and clear.

After the service ended, attendees got up to leave the area. Premier Wynne was noticeably surrounded by both security and supporters wanting a photograph. I was one of those supporters waiting patiently for my photo opportunity. When it came, I told her I had met her at the beginning of the service but wanted a photo with her and I wished her a happy Pride. She was very friendly and approachable which I believe is a strength of hers that helped her win the recent provincial election by a landslide, despite financial scandals of the past Liberal administration.

After the photo, Deputy Mayor Kelly, his office staff and I walked to Chew Chew’s Diner on Carlton Street. We had to wait as it was busy, however, the owner graciously gave us glasses of cold water to help us cool down. By the time we got seated, I was starving and ordered a Canadian omelette. The Deputy Mayor ordered strawberry pancakes, which according to him, came out thick yet fluffy. We ate quickly and then headed to the start of the parade at Jarvis and Bloor. There we met up with the group Toronto PFLAG, an organization for the parents, family, and friends of lesbians and gays. There we had to wait for about an hour to an hour and a half before the march actually began. During that time, councilors took selfies and various media made their way to the Deputy Mayor for interviews and sound bites. The sun was scorching during the wait and humidity drove temperatures to the mid-thirties. We would move up a little bit at a time and everyone was relieved when we would move up to the shadow of a tall building every once in awhile. We reapplied sunblock several times during that wait.

At around 3:15 pm, we started marching from Church and Bloor after waiting for many floats to drive ahead of us. The crowds were overwhelming. Then I suddenly noticed that Rick Mercer had joined Toronto PFLAG! People along both sides of the route cheered and waved at the marchers. The Deputy Mayor’s staff blew up beach balls along the entire route for him to throw to spectators.

All the way down Yonge Street, I just marveled at the crowds on the sidewalks. Everyone was happy and there was simply a positive vibe and energy all the way. This was definitely one perspective of the Pride parade I had never experienced before. Every once in awhile, you would feel a spray of water. Most marchers welcomed the spritz, however, I needed to protect my camera!  About half way down Yonge Street, a CTV reporter Austin Delaney, came up to Deputy Mayor Kelly and sprayed a water gun at him. He broke from the march and was then led to a small stage at Grenville Street where CP24 was waiting for a quick interview. The Deputy Mayor mentioned Toronto being so welcoming to visitors from around the globe and it’s ability to hold world-class events such as WorldPride, and the upcoming Pan Am Games in 2015.

After the interview, we rejoined the parade by catching up to Toronto PFLAG. A gentleman that had met the Deputy Mayor previously at the Garrison Ball started introducing Deputy Mayor Kelly to spectators along the route. He walked a few feet in front of the Deputy Mayor so that he could rally up cheers and handshakes. In my opinion, he did a really great job! The Deputy Mayor finished off the last roughly 20% of the route by shaking hands and exchanging high fives with the crowd.

The parade route ended at Yonge-Dundas Square, where a small crowd was already gathering for the upcoming festivities on the square stage. I was a bit tired, but yet I still wanted the route to continue for a little longer. We walked towards City Hall to head back home. This was definitely a very special way to experience the Pride parade, let alone WorldPride. I drove home feeling happy and grateful for such an experience. This sort of opportunity to participate in such a large-scale event doesn’t come around everyday. From what I witnessed that day, it instilled in me renewed PRIDE. Pride not only for acceptance and love for people of all sexual orientations, but also pride in my home city of Toronto, in my opinion, the best city in the World.

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