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City slow to promote WorldPride: councillor

Kristyn Wong-Tam and others worry Toronto not yet ready to host international event

Pride Toronto organizers spread the word about WorldPride in 2014. Credit: Pride Toronto Facebook

With WorldPride just one year away, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says the city needs to do more to help promote the 2014 festival and get Toronto excited about hosting an international event.

That’s why Wong-Tam has organized the Rise Up Community Summit, an information session on June 8 from 9:30 to 11:30am at Toronto City Hall.

“Right now, very few people know that Toronto is hosting WorldPride next year,” she says. “There are a lot of questions hanging in the air. I have met many people from the LGBTQ community who are asking, ‘What is WorldPride?’ It’s still very unclear to many people. Is it a bigger parade? A bigger party? Or something more?”

Wong-Tam says the summit will be a chance for organizers to answer some of those questions.

Speakers will include Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission; Francisco Alvarez, co-chair of Pride Toronto (PT); and Wong-Tam.

PT will make presentations about WorldPride 2014, including ways the community can get involved. “We need to elevate the profile of this event. We need to get people excited and encourage everyone to get involved,” Wong-Tam says.

Alvarez says that getting the wider community engaged is a key focus, especially restaurants, hotels, politicians, community leaders and business associations.

“This is an event that will impact the whole city,” he says. “It will impact a lot of neighbourhoods that Pride has never really had a presence in before.”

Wong-Tam says she’s increasingly frustrated at the attention and resources the 2015 Pan Am Games are receiving from city council. Councillors recently heard a presentation on the games arranged by Councillor Mark Grimes.

“Organizers of the Pan Am Games took three hours of council’s time to provide a full presentation of the Pan Am Games,” she says. “Pride Toronto will not have that opportunity, so that’s why I wanted to organize something to provide that information. This is not an event that just the Church and Wellesley area is holding. This is a citywide international event.”

Meanwhile, city hall staff have created an office to prepare for the 2015 Pan Am Games and councillors have earmarked tens of millions of dollars for the sporting event.

Wong-Tam has arranged for PT to make a presentation on June 25 about WorldPride to the committee for economic development and culture. She says the issue should be on the city’s agenda.

Her hope is that a member of the mayor’s executive committee will move a motion to allow WorldPride to present at a full council meeting in the next couple months. While some councillors remain oblivious that WorldPride is happening, others are curious, she says.

“I would say most councillors have not heard of WorldPride,” she says. “They don’t know what it will look like or who is involved. So that is one of the obstacles we are trying to eliminate.”

A 2006 study found that Pride Week brings $99 million into the regional economy every year and creates more than 800 jobs in Ontario. Those numbers will certainly increase for WorldPride, Wong-Tam says.

“We are inviting the entire world to come visit Toronto, and the least we could do is get the house ready for our guests,” she says. “WorldPride is so new. This will be the very first time this event is hosted in North America.”

Alvarez says he, too, hopes WorldPride gets a boost in funding and support from the city.

“If it’s not money flowing directly to us, then maybe it’s money they can spend to enhance the presence of WorldPride through the city, such as new pole banners or flags that they can do themselves,” he says.

At the provincial level, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo is in the early stages of forming a coalition of politicians across political lines. She also hopes to get federal Conservative MPs John Baird and Jason Kenney involved to help promote WorldPride and generate tourism.

“I’d like to get a group together with members of all political parties to go travel on a diplomatic mission to drum up tourism and excitement about WorldPride,” she says. “Ottawa should really get behind this as well. We should be letting the world know what is happening here.”