Ryan G Hinds refuses to confirm the details of his wardrobe for Blockorama at Pride this year.
“Of the several outfits I will be wearing, one will involve a feather headdress,” he laughs, over dinner at the Gladstone Hotel before the weekly Granny Boots event he runs. “It’s me, so there will definitely be sequins. I won’t say any more than that. People will have to come out if they want to know what I have in store.”
The Mississauga-born performer has appeared at the event numerous times over the 13 years it has been around and was a natural choice to helm this year’s edition. In addition to his own performances, Hinds is charged with keeping the event rolling and maintaining continuity between the eclectic range of performers.
“If you have a drag queen doing Diana Ross followed by a hip-hop artist, you can’t necessarily just jump between them,” he says. “I’m there to make sure everyone is having fun but also to ensure they know what’s going on.”
Of the many free parties held in the Village over Pride, Blockorama is consistently one of the most diverse. In addition to the aforementioned drag queens and hip-hop artists, partygoers can expect dance troupes, DJs and burlesque performers.
“There are many ways of being black, and the lineup reflects that diversity,” Hinds says. “But it isn’t just about showing all aspects of the black queer community. It’s also about showing that we are fiercely accomplished, incredibly talented and dedicated activists.”
“It’s an opportunity for black queers to put their best and truest colours on display for everyone,” he adds. “A lot of black queers aren’t comfortable being themselves at an event like Caribana, so it’s important to allow a space for them to be their proud island selves.”
Space has been a key issue for Blockorama in recent years. In 2006 the event was bumped from its long-time spot in the parking lot across from Wellesley Station and has since been shuffled to different corners of the Village three times. The year the party was sandwiched into the parking lot of the beer store on Church St was particularly disappointing.
“I remember that as a really sad year, where we were walled in on three sides without sunlight,” Hinds says. “The space was way too small for the party and got way too crowded. There was a point where we had a medical emergency, and we actually had to stop the event and get everyone to clear the way so that EMS could get through.”
Organizers were happy to learn the event will return to its home turf in 2011. The announcement came at a community information session at the 519 Church Street Community Centre in March.
“This year has the element of taking our space back within the geography of Pride,” Hinds says. “But it’s also about claiming the space that’s available to us as queer black people. It’s an opportunity to congregate en masse and have fun, as we love to do.”
Despite the emphasis on creating space and performance opportunities for black queers, Hinds stresses that Blockorama is an event everyone should feel welcome at. “There’s always a healthy contingent of non-black partiers at the event,” he says. “It’s actually one of the most diverse parties of the entire festival.”
“An event like Blockorama makes space for similar events aimed at different communities,” he adds. “I’ve never believed in the idea of one party to rule them all. There’s space for lots of events at Pride. That might make me sound really Pollyanna, but that’s really how I feel.”