4 min

Flash me, I’m a politician

Sunny days, happy people & a party from hell

Credit: Dean Tomlinson

Pride 2004: Year Of The Photo-op.

There were photo-ops for politicians going into the mostly hotly contested federal election in more than a decade and photo-ops for straight tourists, armed with digital cameras to prove they were at one of the world’s biggest celebrations of bent sexuality.

Oh, and there were queers there, too, being urged to vote, vote, vote all through the most earnest, least vulgar parade in years. There must have been a dozen signs stating, “Vote Tomorrow: Our Rights Are At Stake” for every buff boy shilling booze.

“I don’t begrudge them,” Fred Pitt, Pride Toronto co-chair, says of the politicos. “They can come and do their thing.”

And the Pride-goers can do their thing: As a possible Stephen Harper government loomed, spectators booed downtown Conservative candidates Megan Harris and David Watters, even though both candidates support same-sex marriage. (Harper, Harris and Watters were all booed by Torontonians at the ballot box the next day.) The New Democrats had the largest walking contingent and the Liberals were quoting Trudeau.

Despite concerns that Pride 2004 might run up a deficit, Pitt says the event likely paid for itself. He didn’t have final numbers, but says the sunny days drove up sales in the beer gardens, the twoonie drive was a success and Heritage Canada coughed up $100,000 on Jun 25 – the Friday of Pride weekend – to support the artsy side of Pride. Neither Pride organizers nor the police do a crowd estimate, but there was a perception that numbers were above previous estimates of 800,000.

“I was worried on Thursday,” says Pitt. “We’re just lucky we got the money and the good weather happened.”

Less lucky were the attendees of the first official Pride Ball on Jun 26. Billed as Pride Toronto’s largest-ever fundraiser, it was the organization’s first foray into a circuit-party-type event, at $65 a pop. The original Exhibition Place venue disappeared when the insurance carrier denied organizers coverage on Jun 21, the week of the event. Pride Ball media rep and Pride board member Chris Mackechnie says they quickly booked The Docks, expecting that the indoor capacity of 3,000 people – of which Pride only had a portion because of the straight party next door – and the outdoor capacity of 5,000 would be enough.

“The problem is that it was eight degrees and windy,” says Mackechnie. With the main room jammed – people who went out onto the chilly patio weren’t permitted back in – the lineup outside stalled and at one point was shut down while angry ticket holders, some who waited more than two hours, were left chanting, “Refund, refund.”

“It was body to body. You couldn’t get to the bathroom, the bar, let alone get fresh air. As far as the party was concerned, it was an embarrassment,” says attendee Richard Oakey, who regularly attends for-profit gay parties. “Wrong venue, poorly organized, poor theme, poor decorations. The wheels fell off the bus.”

Mackechnie says that at no point was the venue over capacity and that the eight police officers who were present had been booked ahead of time. He says 2,790 tickets were sold, putting them at 290 people over the capacity of the main room if all the ticket holders were there at the same time. Mackechnie says the Pride Ball will give refunds to the ticket holders who have already asked for them. He’s not sure if there will be proceeds going to Pride left over after the refunds are paid.

“The failings are ours and we want to be totally responsible,” he says. “At this moment in time, we’re so depressed that it wasn’t what it was supposed to be.”

For Pride Ball, Pride Toronto created a special arms-length committee consisting of three Pride reps, including Mackechnie, plus figure skater Brian Orser, Fashion Cares’ David Connolly, Prism party promoter Daniel Bellavance, promoter Gilles Belanger and Collin Joseph of the Ontario Lottery And Gaming Corporation. Pitt distances the event from Pride Toronto.

“We had no control because it’s not our event,” he says. “I’m disappointed with the crowding. I was one of those people who didn’t get in.”

At Prism’s Boot Camp party on Jun 25, star DJ Abel did not show up as scheduled.

Back on Church St, it was the first time Pride was policed by officers from 51 Division. The gay village was in 52 Division until the boundary shifted Jun 1. Randal Munroe, superintendent of 51 Division, says overall the weekend went well.

“It was pretty low key from a police perspective,” says Munroe. Several people were arrested for being drunk. Police took the names of several nudists, to pass onto the Attorney General’s office.

“And you know what will happen then,” says Munroe. It is unlikely the Attorney General will proceed with charges, considering they were tossed out when police arrested parade nudists in 2002.

Munroe says police sent four teams of officers to bars on Pride Friday to talk about liquor licence concerns. The officers visited gay bars repeatedly over the weekend, cautioning some bars as many as three times before laying overcrowding charges.

“We can’t stand by and watch overcrowding to the point where public safety is in jeopardy,” says Munroe. He says a total of 15 charges were laid against various Church St bars, fewer than in previous years.

Though Munroe called the police visits “a pleasant reminder,” Dennis O’Connor, chair of the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area, says that bar owners on the receiving end felt differently.

“The police were rude and difficult to deal with this Pride. There’s no need for police to be rude and pushy and shovey. I’m sure there are friendly cops who want to work Pride. In the spirit of the festival, they should try to smile.”

O’Connor says he’s talked to bar and restaurant owners who found the repeated visits intimidating.

“Our neighbourhood is very well policed on our own,” he says. “By constantly calling on our bars over and over, it makes it look like our bars are a bastion of criminal activity.”