Well, it finally happened – we got our Toronto Pride Weekend back after two long years of waiting! The weather was hot and everyone was ready to party. It was a record year for attendance, exceeding something like 1.9 million people invading the downtown core!
On Church Street
Drag Ball 2022
I didn’t take as many pictures of the Church Street antics this year as I was at Yonge-Dundas Square for most of Saturday enjoying the awesome Drag Ball 2022. I came away from that event with a nasty sunburn and COVID-19, but somehow it was all worth it – what a great day!
From Pride Toronto’s website: Drag Ball is back in-person, baby! And bigger than ever, with over 50 local drag queens, kings, gender performers, and surprise guests from Drag Race Canada and Call Me Mother. These performers will grace this massive stage for one of the biggest drag shows Pride has ever seen. Get ready for glitter bombs, gowns, meaty tucks, wigs, facial hair, passion, hunty, fierce, fierce, fierce, Tongue pop! Hosted by your favourite sweet and sour treat Lemon, you won’t wanna take your eyes off this stage from start to finish. Our city is overflowing with drag talent, so come out and support Toronto’s drag community on this very important day.
Here’s just a bit of what went down that afternoon:
With Pride happening next weekend in Toronto – after a two year absence due to COVID-19 – I thought it quite appropriate to repost this article by Gordon Bowness from the everythingzoomer.com website. So much of the article sums up my feelings about this special time of year.
I know how to do Pride well. I can run a mile in a cork wedgie — and have, repeatedly, even as I slid into my late 50s. I marched in New York at an unsanctioned parade to mark AIDS activism and the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, the 1969 riot sparked by a police raid on a LGBTQ2S+ club. This uprising by a group of white, brown and Black queer and trans folk is commemorated by all Prides, like the one in my hometown of Winnipeg, which I skipped through in a sarong. Or the parade in Toronto that my boyfriend and I, dressed in ridiculous outfits, pranced through for 18 years in a row, a tradition that stopped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To say that I yearn to reconnect physically with legions of other LGBTQ2S+ folks at Pride is a gross understatement.
That desire among queer and trans folk is palpable across the country. There is a special energy generated when we gather en masse. And while we have shown incredible ingenuity and tenacity in maintaining connections through social media and other physically distant means, nothing can replace that face-to-face, skin-to-skin, high-heels-on-pavement connection.
After a two-year hiatus, Pride festivities return to in-person events across Canada this summer, with parades being planned from Victoria (June 26) to Winnipeg (June 5), Toronto (June 26) to St. John’s (July 14).
Granted, many Canadians are still wary of COVID-19 and may prefer to show their Pride online or at more private affairs. But those who do venture out are going to devour every flirty look, every awkward encounter with our exes, every moment of campy excess.
At the heart of Pride’s exuberance beats an ignoble secret: pain. That’s why queer and trans joy is so intense; it’s the flip side of pain. And that’s why Pride has always been a party and a protest, whether it was during the AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s, the calls for racial justice and defunding the police in the last few years, or our current crisis of violence against trans folk, where a rash of legislative attacks on trans youth march in lockstep with physical attacks, especially against trans women of colour. A lot of intersectional politics courses through the seemingly frivolous festivities at Pride. Many in our communities are besieged. But when the world is out to get you, there is something vitally radical about just being alive. It’s a simple truth, hard won. Pride is a celebration of life.
Have the past two years been challenging for you? Come join us queer and trans folk at Pride. Shake out the sorrow. We know how to do this, and why.
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2022 issue with the headline ‘Canadian Pride’, p. 13.
Well, here we are. One year later and still no physical Pride events, here or elsewhere for that matter, thanks to COVID-19 and the state of the world these days <boo, hiss….>.
Regardless, I’ve been thinking about how I could mark this year’s non-event. I could pout and rage (which I feel like doing), but it would be more productive and positive to put together some little tribute to Pride and celebrate in my own way. (By the way, if you’d like to see my Pride retrospective from last year, you can check it out here.)
Rainbow Flag Raising at City Hall
On June 1st this year, the City of Toronto proclaimed Pride Month and raised the Rainbow and Transgender flags at City Hall. Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s ceremony was pre-recorded and held virtually. In the video below, Mayor John Tory is joined by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Toronto Centre), Grant Gonzales and Yuri Hernandez from Pride Toronto’s Board of Directors, and Pride Toronto Executive Director Sherwin Modeste. They share messages of solidarity and reflect on milestones being marked this year by Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ community, including the 40th anniversary of Pride Toronto and the 30th anniversary of the City proclaiming Pride Day.
YouTube Livestream Virtual Parade
On Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 2:00-3:00PM, there will a live “Virtual Pride Parade”. Personally, I can’t imagine it, but if interested, it can be found here. Myself, I’m waiting for the real thing next year.
Toronto Pride: Looking Back Once More
So after touching on a couple of things from our current, grotesquely hobbled Pride (and no, I won’t go off on my usual rant), I’ll go back in time as I’m wont to do, to Toronto Pride weekends of the past. Specifically, I thought I’d reminisce a bit about those wonderful GCDC (Gay Community Dance Committee) dances at The Masonic Temple, aka The Concert Hall, at 888 Yonge Street (corner of Yonge and Davenport).
Those dances were great. From roughly 1981 until 1992, they went from 9:00 PM to 5:00AM; there weren’t that many after-hours gay clubs at the time, so it felt slightly radical to be able to dance almost until dawn. There was a major GCDC dance event (and they truly were Events with a capital E) at least a couple of times a year, and the Toronto Pride GCDC dances, especially, were the highlight of the year. The GCDC dances eventually attracted up to 2,000 party-minded people, raking in up to $10,000 each time. As I understand it, the money was split among community groups who gave back to the gay community.
Gay Liberation on the Dance Floor
Our gay community was quite different at the time; it wasn’t the diverse cultural melting pot we see on Church Street today. Even so, the dances were incredible as they brought together so many segments of our community at the same time. Those dance parties were galvanizing, unifying and liberating: they consisted of gay men and lesbians who simply wanted – and loved – to come together to dance.
The dances were apolitical and simply all about fun, dancing and good times, yet they also helped shape Toronto’s gay and lesbian community into what we enjoy today. At the Masonic Hall/Temple, men had the main floor of the Hall, which was massive (I well remember the towering speakers, pulsing lights and lasers), and the lesbians had their own DJs, bar and party in the lower level. There was, and still is, a second floor balcony where you could climb up to get out of the mass of people, and just observe the goings-on on the dance floor below:
The music at those GCDC dances was great. Personally I’ll never forget sweating to Jimmy Somerville’s cover of Never Can Say Goodbye at more than a couple of the events. Here’s a sound sampler on Mixcloud from the November 1, 1986 GCDC Dance at the Masonic Temple, themedI Never Touched The Witch:
As an aside, Mixcloud is a great site if you want to hear what was actually being played in Toronto’s gay clubs at the time. On the Mixcloud page above, there’s two October 14, 1995 sets by DJ Allan Kaufman at Club Colby’s (formerly Katrina’s), and a June 1983 set by DJ Greg Howlett at Club Mystique (after-hours club behind the Manatee on Phipps Street). Oh, I do remember dancing in those clubs back in the day <heaves heavy sigh>… but I digress…
I still remember so well, sadly, when the GCDC dances came to an end once and for all. Appropriately themed The Last Dance, the Masonic Hall played host one last time to the very last GCDC dance at Pride, June 1992. And, of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you what the very last song on the setlist was that night: queue Miss Donna and Last Dance:
I’ll never forget walking back home at 4:30 in the morning after The Last Dance, up Park Road to our place on Huntley Street, my mind and body still electrified and energized by 6 hours of 130 beats per minute. I remember having a bittersweet mixture of afterglow from the great party combined with the knowledge that a GCDC dance would never happen again.
This weekend I have again proudly hung my Rainbow Flags on the balcony, and will try to get in to the spirit of things. I can’t help looking ahead to next year, though, when things should get back to relative normality. If that’s the case, we’ll have a Pride unlike any other… it will be a hell of a party. Until then, I remain waiting in anticipation… 🙂
As we all know, COVID-19 has squatted over Toronto Pride this summer of 2020 and taken a huge dump. When it was announced that all large events – or any event for that matter – in the City of Toronto would be cancelled this year, including my beloved Pride, I was crushed beyond measure. Toronto Pride will be celebrated this year with “Virtual Pride” which, to me anyway, defies logic. Virtual Pride?? How exactly does one do a Virtual Pride, for God’s sake? No thanks… I want the real thing.
Pride week in Toronto has always meant so much to me and, as a gay man, is an essential experience in my life. In my world, Pride is more important than Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. No other event brings such happiness, energy, enthusiasm, celebration, vitality and warmth than those few days in late June every year. Even though time and tide have scaled back my activities considerably from Pride weekends past, I still celebrate the occasion and feel joy in my own way on that special weekend.
I believe my first “Pride Day” (as it was then called) was 1985. I have wonderful memories of those early Pride events when they were just a half-day long (always on a Sunday afternoon) and held in Cawthra Park (now the Barbara Hall Park, which has become a haven for junkies, crackheads, crime, muggings and harassment from street trash who have overtaken the place… but I digress…).
Those days, Pride was held within the boundaries of Cawthra Park, if you can imagine. In the late 80s/very early 90s the event spilled into a small section of Church Street above Wellesley, with the epicentre being the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Across from the 519 was the only stage, set up in the parking lot of The Beer Store. At about 9:00 PM that night (at the latest), the police would reopen Church Street to traffic, and cars would resume their usual pace down Church Street as if nothing had happened that day.
I remember those Pride Days as being pretty much a white, male, middle-class event, long before global inclusion and the alphabet soup that now describes our community (LGBTIQA+ or whatever the hell it currently is). From those early Pride Days, I have memories of local gay hero Harold Desmarais singing a personally-penned protest song to Art Eggleton, the then-mayor of Toronto who had refused to proclaim, or even acknowledge, Pride Day (as it was then called). Harold served as the Master of Ceremonies for Pride Day festivities from 1986 through 1989. I also have memories of Jack Layton acting as auctioneer, auctioning local goods and services from a little makeshift stage behind the 519.
As for some of the Pride Day music I remember, local alternative band The Nancy Sinatras played a set for a couple of years at Pride, where they belted out some wonderfully tacky, kitschy and downright rude songs from the stage set up for the day in the Church Street Beer Store parking lot. The Nancy Sinatras were about as “Queen Street West” as you could get in the late ’80s; they were awesome.
In those days, the AIDS Memorial behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre did not exist. I remember the temporary AIDS memorial that would go up for Pride Day each year before the permanent one became a reality. This was a terrible time in our gay history, with AIDS claiming so many men in those early days.
For this post I had desperately hoped to find some photos I had taken of those early Pride events that took place on Church Street and in Cawthra Park. I slowly perused my carefully curated photo albums (physical pictures… remember those?), but alas could not find any shots of Toronto Pride street scenes from the 1980s, at least none that were of any interest. I do, though, have extensive shots of almost every Pride Parade from 1986 to 2006.
Sooooooo, as to not totally lose the Pride spirit this year, in lieu of a physical Toronto Pride 2020, I offer some good bits from years past to put us in the mood and lift our spirits.
I now present to you Toronto Pride, warts and all. Let’s go back…
On Church Street…
I Love A Parade…
Ah, the memories…
This year I’ll skip “Virtual Pride” but will still proudly fly my rainbow flags from the balcony, trying my best to resurrect the spirit of Pride.
I’d like to end this post with a positive, feel-good message from our Ward 13 City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam; I couldn’t have said it better myself:
When the pandemic is behind us, we will come together again. We will fill the streets, the restaurants, the bars, the civic spaces, the dance floors. And when we do it will be the loudest, most colourful, most fabulous Pride celebration in this city’s history. I look forward to joining you on that day.