One of Toronto’s Biggest Festivals: Pride Toronto

Just recently I had a chance to sit down with Natasha Garda, Co-Chair, and Leon Mar, Media Coordinator of Pride Toronto. Pride Week is the fun and fabulous arts and culture festival that happens in the last week of June each year in Toronto. Pride Week celebrates our diverse sexual and gender identities, histories, cultures, families, friends and lives and has become one of Toronto’s biggest festivals and yearly entertainment events.

1. Please tell us about the history of Pride Week as part of Canada’s Queer Community and about this year’s theme

The roots of Pride Toronto date all the way back to 1969, when drag queens and queer street kids rioted at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. In the same year, the Canadian federal government decriminalized homosexual acts for consenting adults over 21, under then-Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau who uttered his famous “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation” statement. In 1971 Toronto’s first “Gay Day Picnic” was held at Hanlan’s Point.

Throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s the gay community fought for recognition and in some years was denied permission to march on Yonge Street while the Mayor’s Office refused to officially recognize the event. In 1981 Metro Toronto Police raided various bathhouses and caused extensive property damage as well as public embarrassment and humiliation to the visitors of the bathhouses. Things improved when, in 1987, sexual orientation was included in the Ontario Human Rights Code. In 1991 80,000 people celebrated the Pride event. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act, gays and lesbians could not be excluded from entering the Canadian Forces. Finally in 1999, Toronto’s then mayor Mel Lastman participated actively (with a “Supersoaker” water gun) in the Pride parade, while corporate sponsorship revenues were higher than ever and put Pride on firm financial footing for the next year.

The theme for Pride Week 2005 is “Pride 25: 25 years and counting”. The event will be championed by Grand Marshal Salah Bachir, a generous philanthropist, successful businessman and visionary patron of the arts. As Chair of The 519 Capital Campaign he has raised more than $5 million for the expansion and renovation of The 519 Community Centre – $750,000 of which was donated by himself. Salah Bachir is President of Famous Players Media Inc., and Publisher of Famous magazines.

2. Pride Toronto has a lot of special events, please tell us about all the events you have planned.

– On Monday, June 20, 2005, Pride Toronto kicks off with a flag raising ceremony at City Hall. Citizens, politicians, friends and community members hear the Mayor read the Pride Week proclamation, raise the Rainblow Flag and enjoy food and entertainment.

– On Tuesday, June 21, 2005, the Pride Awards Gala 2005 marks the 25th annual Pride Week Festivities in Toronto. To salute this special year in history, Pride Toronto is organizing a wonderful gala dinner and awards show.

– The Pride Toronto Community Fair provides activists, community and non-profit groups with a public forum to explain their role in our community, educate about their mission, recruit volunteers and garner support for their cause. The Community Fair will take place 11:00 am on both Saturday June 25th and Sunday June 26th 2005. The Pride Toronto Marketplace allows vendors, artisans and businesses large and small a wonderful space to exhibit and sell their wares, services, products and marketing support to our community. Marketplace venues will be available from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm on both Saturday June 25th and Sunday June 26th 2005.

– Family Pride: This child-friendly, interactive space provides an oasis for families of all kinds. Family Pride features crafts, games, children’s entertainment by Rainbow Songs and face painting as well as on-site daycare on the Saturday and Sunday of Pride Weekend.

– The Dyke March (Saturday June 25, 2005 – 2pm) is an event within Pride Week (June 20th to the 26th) that provides a focus on women. It is open to women loving women of any race, culture, orientation, ability, health, economic group, family structure, faith or age. The March is for women only; however, we encourage men to support us from the sidelines.

– Pride Week culminates in the Pride Parade to be held on June 26, 2:00 pm. The Pride Parade is the climax of the Pride Week celebrations. During the week we will celebrate our history and our future with everyone who chooses to support us. The Pride Parade is the community’s opportunity to express freedom, gratitude and pride for being able to live in harmony.

3. Pride Week 2005 offers a lot of entertainment for the whole family. Please tell us about all the different entertainment events you will be hosting.

Family Pride offers entertainment for children and the whole family while adults can enjoy a whole range of entertainment options. Music events include concerts with well-known performers and DJs. There are 3 beer gardens that provide refreshments while there is also a so-called Free Zone: an alcohol and substance-free area. The Community Café presents local community
groups that perform live shows. In addition, a theatre performance called “Cheap Queers” will be hosted in Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Pride Art Walk presents works from a network of local artists.

4. In addition, you will host concerts by 6 major artists. Please tell us about these free concerts.

Pride Week 2005 features up to seven stages of entertainment per day over three days from Friday, June 24th – Sunday, June 26th 2005. We are proud and excited to confirm the presentation of the six astounding, diverse and award-winning artists. The current line-up features David Usher, Carol Pope + Rough Trade, Simone Denny, DJ Dan, The Butchies and The Kinsey Sicks.

5. Please share with us some statistics of the event – how has it grown?

From its first official event in 1981, Pride Toronto has grown from a gathering of 1,500 people to a major entertainment event that draws an attendance of about 1 million people according to media reports. Pride Week is a free event to attend because Pride Toronto’s staff, volunteers and
supporters work hard to raise the almost $1,000,000 annual budget needed to put on this spectacular festival. There are up to 26 volunteer coordinators, managing everything from Entertainment and Site Operations to the Dyke March and the Pride Parade. Pride also has 5 full-time staff members and Pride Week is run by more than 700 volunteers. According to media estimates, Pride Week contributes about $80 million to the local economy.

6. How does Pride Toronto compare to other Inter Pride events?

Pride Toronto is a proud member of InterPride, the international association of Pride Event organizers. InterPride exists to promote Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride on an international level, to increase networking and communication among Pride Organizations, to encourage diverse communities to hold and attend Pride Events, and to act as a source of

Other high-profile Pride Parades are held in cities including London – England, New York City, San Francisco, Sydney, and Melbourne. Pride Toronto is among the top Pride Events world-wide and distinguishes itself by the fact that it is still completely free to attend.

7. Please tell us about the acceptance of the event and the sponsors behind Pride Toronto.

In recent years, Pride Toronto has gained recognition and appreciation as one of Toronto’s most important festivals and now draws a very diverse audience from difference countries, different cultural and demographic backgrounds. Its mass appeal to the general population is evidenced by the fact that major sponsors have signed up to give Pride Toronto their support. Today, Pride Toronto enjoys the generous support of companies such as Labatt Blue, TD Canada Trust, Pizza Pizza, Air Canada, Trojan, IKEA, Hewlett-Packard and many more.

8. Just recently Pride Toronto was named the best Canadian festival – please tell us more about that.

I am very proud to report that in April of 2005, Pride Toronto was awarded the Best Festival in Canada title at the 8th Annual Canadian Event Industry Star Awards (CEIA), a national award program that recognizes outstanding achievements in Canadian special events, meeting management, conference planning and exhibition management.

Thank you, Natasha and Leon, for your time and all the best for next few hectic weeks in organizing this massive event.

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