Toronto
3 min

An army of lovers

It has the feel of a giant family reunion/street party here at Queen’s Park for Stonewall TO.

That’s the message I sent out on Twitter shortly after noon on Sunday, June 26, standing knee-deep in glitter, costumes and hot-pink protest signs.

There were about 1,000 people at Stonewall TO, enough people to densely pack half a city block. Marchers brandished slogans calling for GSAs in Catholic schools, the protection of social services and more sexy times.

Indeed, many of the stencilled signs bore the message “An army of lovers will never be defeated,” a slogan repeated by Sasha Van Bon Bon before the march. It was great to see a protest that embraced and celebrated human sexuality and linked our status as sexual outlaws to politics.

My friend Casey Oraa — who is a labour activist and the political action director for Queer Ontario — had asked me to marshal with him during the event.

I did, somewhat reluctantly. Obviously, it’s an honour to be a marshal for such a great event. But I hadn’t volunteered in the weeks leading up to the event, so I worried about being the guy monitoring the punch at someone else’s party. I was also reluctant because the protest was led by women — the kind of rad dykes I really admire — and I didn’t want to be the guy displacing women at a women-led (though not necessarily women-focused) event.

In the end, I was at the back of the parade, taking orders from long-time shit-disturber Anna Willats and performance artist Jess Dobkin. Which was perfect.

(For those who don’t know, marshals are part crossing guard, part camp counsellor. The gig involves scanning streets and sidewalks for potential problems and diffusing them if any come up. Marshals can be as sweet as mama bears or as crusty as drill sergeants. On a march as well oiled as Stonewall TO, it was more the former than the latter.)

An hour later, protesters doused in glitter were hanging out on the lawn of the 519 Church Street Community Centre, taking in the daylong celebrations at Back to our Roots.

Stonewall TO, in other words, was a smashing success.

As Xtra goes to press, the big Pride Toronto parade — parade, mind you, not a march — is still a few days away. I’m sure it will be a big hit, too. Word is it will be the longest parade to date — the largest number of contingents in the parade’s 30-year history, taking some four-and-a-half hours to complete its route.

It was a date change at Pride Toronto that opened up the space for Stonewall TO. Historically, Toronto Pride was the same weekend as New York City’s and San Francisco’s, namely the last weekend in June, lining up with the anniversary of the riots at New York’s Stonewall Inn. Last year, because of the G20, organizers moved the parade back a week.

But this year, Pride Toronto decided to keep the later date, based on the idea that it would (a) be better to have it on a long weekend and (b) attract tourists who might come to Toronto if it weren’t the same weekend as New York’s.

So, the date is important: it’s a symbolic movement away from politics and activism — commemorating Stonewall — and toward a corporate party — which, by contrast, has tourists, the long weekend and maximizing numbers as primary concerns.

Consider that the parade was moved last year because of a big, dirty, disruptive protest, namely the circus that surrounded the G20. Never mind that the police turned out to be the more disruptive force, and never mind that Stonewall and Pride were once big, dirty disruptive protests themselves. The point, symbolically, is that Pride, after a decade of drifting away from politics, literally changed weekends so as to avoid them.

In response, Stonewall TO and its kin — 2010’s Take Back the Dyke, the Pride Coalition for Free Speech, Blockorama, Queer Ontario — have exerted a force on Toronto Pride that cannot be undone.

Look for more politics at this year’s Pride parade than in any of the last decade, both because of shifting Pride Toronto policy and because of a sea change in our community’s attitude. This year, signs and T-shirts — even for those watching from behind the barricades — with political slogans are more than welcome.

Anti-bullying. Free speech. Sex positivity. Protecting social programs. And don’t forget: an army of lovers will never be defeated.