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Early crop of Pride celebrations

Queer festivities bloom across the region

SMALL-TOWN PRIDE. MC Melanie Hitchins welcomes attendees at 2007's York Pride Fest picnic. This year's picnic takes place Sun, Jun 22.

The countdown is now on to Fri, Jun 20 — the official start of Pride Week in Toronto. But the Hogtown edition is by no means the only Pride in the province. In municipalities across Ontario queers will be holding a multitude of festivities all summer long. The early birds — like Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo which join together annually to throw Tri-Pride — have already beat us to the punch with parties in late May.

Though smaller in scale these celebrations promise their own unique delights, with the added political and social significance of increasing queer visibility outside of the perceived safety of the big city.

Here’s a small sampling of Pride events taking place in some of our neighbouring communities this month.

HAMILTON

If there was any doubt that Hamilton is a city with a thriving queer scene the proof is in the jam-packed schedule of its nine-day Pride celebration running Sat, Jun 7 to 15. Free events include Pride Idol, which challenges would-be divas to belt out their best performance for a chance to win $500, a gala reception and Pride awards show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton and a showcase of artwork from queer artists.

In amidst the partying participants will find a greater emphasis on activism than in recent years, says Hamilton Pride vice chair Emily Groom.

“This year we’re trying to bring the whole thing back as what Pride first started as, a bit more political and a bit more back to its roots,” says Groom. “We’re still doing all of the fun stuff but some of our events are geared toward talking about some of the issues that are affecting our community of Hamilton, and in our country.

“Back in December there were a few gay bashings… so we held a rally and we weren’t happy with the police response in terms of their follow-up. So that’s a big issue for us. So that got everyone talking and wanting to take a stand on these issues.”

The more political aspects of Pride will include a symposium on Tue, Jun 10 tackling queer inclusion. The event, which starts at 6pm at the Hamilton Media Arts Centre (126 James St N), will pick up on one of last year’s hot-button issues.

“One of the issues that we’re talking about at the symposium is the military being involved with Pride,” says Groom. “Last year the military set up a recruitment table at Pride and it made people in our community uncomfortable. So this year we have not invited the military to come. By all means if you’re a soldier in fatigues please come, that’s great, but we don’t want to support an institution that doesn’t support the rights of all people.”

Sat, Jun 14 is the main event, beginning with a morning rally at Hamilton City Hall, following with the city’s annual Pride parade. The route winds up at Pier 4 Park (Guise St and Leander Dr) where the festival and marketplace pick up, featuring musical performances by The Parachute Club, Naomi Taylor, Spirits and Forte. An official afterparty at The Werx (121 Hughson St N) caps off the day.

For more info go to Hamiltonpride.com.

NIAGARA

The Niagara region is celebrating Pride with a month of events organized by various local organizations and individuals.

“We had originally started this trying to work it together as one massive committee,” says Out-Niagara’s Ed Eldred, “but over the years it’s come together really well with each of the organizations — and we have several, as well as individual organizers — putting together events.”

The fourth-year of festivities kicked off Jun 3 with a flag-raising ceremony at St Catharine’s city hall and continues with various gatherings throughout June, including a few which Eldred says are unique to Niagara.

“Celebrating the summer solstice is something we got into a few years ago,” he says. “It’s a celebation of the turning of the season and it’s something that’s very attuned to the gay community. As well native drummers take part in that and other musical groups…. It’s certainly something that’s totally different than what you’re going to find in Toronto or anywhere else for that matter.”

There’s also a winery tour in the works that will pick up after OutNiagara’s monthly brunch on Sat, Jun 22 and take in a few of the wineries on the Beamsville Bench.

“We’ve had people ask for things that are different and specific to Niagara and certainly wine and Niagara go together,” says Eldred.

For more go to Outniagara.ca.

HALTON

Now in its ninth year Halton Pride, organized by the Halton Organization for Pride and Education, is celebrating the season with two flag-raising ceremonies and an outdoor picnic event. The region includes the cities of Burlington, Oakville and Milton and the town of Halton Hills, which encompasses Acton and Georgetown.

“Halton Hills actually started their Pride on May 26 with a proclamation from town council and the raising of the rainbow flag at city hall,” says Jacqui Fendley, a committee member with Social Networking and Pride, the social arm of Halton Pride. Burlington raised the Pride flag at city hall on Jun 2.

The region’s annual picnic takes place on Sat, Jun 7 at the Centre Park Band Shell (2331 New St in Burlington) from 11am to 4pm. The event will include a BBQ hosted by the Halton Police, a DJ, karaoke, an art show with local artists, raffles, games and children’s activities including face painting, clown shows and more.

“It will have a carnival theme, done in a family picnic style,” says Fendley. “This is the first year that we are having this event in a public location so we’re very excited.”

Fendley laments that the lack of additional local Pride events. “I don’t know, perhaps the reason we don’t have more Pride events… is because the queer community is close enough to Toronto to go there and do things that perhaps they don’t bother with things as much here.”

For more info check out Haltonpride.org.

DURHAM

To the east of Toronto, Durham Region — made up of the communities of Ajax, Brock, Clarington, Oshawa, Pickering, Scugog, Uxbridge and Whitby — will be celebrating the fifth-annual Durham Pride, running from Fri, Jun 13 to 15.

The focus of this year’s festival, Pride Carnival, will take place on Jun 14 at Heydenshore Park and Pavilion (589 Water St in Whitby). Morning and early afternoon events include food, music, a family fun fair, raffle and silent auction. During the afternoon there will be workshops available on everything from giving a good massage to managing a mortgage. In the evening there’ll be a DJ, dancing, drag performances and more.

For more information and a schedule of events go to Pridedurham.com.

YORK REGION

Toronto’s neighbour to the north, York region — which encompasses municipalities including Aurora, East Gwillembury, King, Georgina, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Whitchurch-Stouffville — is holding its eighth edition of York Pride Fest from Mon, Jun 16 to 22. What started as a single party at the Sharon Community Centre in 2001 has grown over the years to include events all over the region.

“I’m most proud that, despite our limitations, we’re becoming better known in the region and we’re able to attract more people on a continuing basis year after year,” says York Pride Fest coordinator Dave Williams. “We’re building from last year. We have four big events, up from three the year before… and we’re pushing for even more in the years to come.

“One area that we’re really going to have to get into is sponsorship, like Toronto does,” adds Williams. “We can’t afford to pay for a lot of things and we would benefit from sponsorship.”

This year the main event will be a picnic on Sun, Jun 22 at the Community Safety Village — a trippy miniature village built to teach kids about safety — within Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area in Stouffville. The picnic, which will include speakers and live music, runs from noon until 4pm. The $5 fee to enter the park will be waived for visitors who let gatehouse staff know that they’re just attending the party.

There will also be the Rainbow Fusion event for youth on Jun 21 to be held at Bayview Secondary School (10077 Bayview Ave), Pride displays at public libraries across the region and socials at local bars and restaurants.

For more information on these and other York Pride Fest events go to Yorkpridefest.com.

WEST TORONTO

The queer west crowd gets a head start on Pride with the Queer West Fest, running Fri, Jun 13 to 22. Events include a community fair and marketplace at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St W) on Jun 14 and the fourth-annual Pride Ride, a bicycle ride organized by the Gay West Bicycle Club. The 25-kilometre ride takes place Jun 15 at noon; riders will be meeting up on the north side of the Queensway, below Colborne Lodge Dr.

This year will also mark the first-annual Queer West Film and Video Fest on Jun 18. Hosted by Gay West board members Michel Paré and Nate Fuks, the one-night fest takes place at the Good Catch General Store (1556 Queen St W); doors open at 9pm with screenings beginning at 9:30pm.

For more on the Queer West Fest check out Gaywest.905host.net.