Toronto
3 min

It takes more than a village

I’ve got an idea for next year’s Pride. Let’s move it to the Lakeshore.

Pride is now just as big and obstreperous as Caribana and needs the same kind of spatial latitude. This year, for the first time ever, I saw not one, but two, fistfights on Church St on Pride Sunday. Local volunteers, security and police handled the incidents with dispatch but the violence still made me slightly queasy and I wondered if it was a sign of things to come.

Certainly jamming a million-plus people into a quiet residential area is probably not the best way to facilitate peace and tranquility.

Pride’s grown so fast that I think we’ve lost track of just how big it has become and how ridiculous it is to hold such a large, ear-shattering circus in the midst of what is, most of the time, a quiet urban village.

Pride didn’t break the 100,000 attendance figure until the early 1990s and didn’t hire its first full-time staff person until 2002. But its growth has accelerated in recent years and it now routinely attracts a million people to a space that is already densely packed with people trying to go about their day-to-day business. That’s kind of like dumping a full-size American city into the midst of a small town and it’s not fair either to area residents (most of whom can kiss their homes goodbye for the duration of the event; it’s too loud to do anything but leave) or to the traditions of the event, most of which have, in any case, been muted by the increasing prevalence of party mania.

Nobody questions Pride’s location because of its semi-sanctified status in the gay calendar year, but the event has changed and so too should its location.

For starters let’s drop the sentimental notion that Pride has anything to do with supporting tender gay sensibilities or nurturing their coming out. Mostly it’s just an object lesson in how much money there is to be made getting people drunk and horny. There’s nothing wrong with that. But spare me the sentimental guff about building community.

If you want to feel lonely, Pride is right up there with Christmas and if you want to support our youth there are better events than the Pride bacchanalia (which, as my doctor complained just before Pride, serves mostly to facilitate a sharp spike in the number of seroconversions).

Pride isn’t even particularly gay anymore. One friend who always attends the parade noted that he thought for the first time ever this year’s audience was more straight than gay.

Pride survives and thrives because it’s a tourist bonanza in a city that has never quite recovered from SARS and 9/11. According to Pride the fest generated $52.1 million in local spending and $46.1 million in tourist spending in 2006. (For more on Pride and tourism turn to page 10.)

But if it’s tourists you want, they’re a pretty easy crowd to attract, especially if you’re playing to the puritanical American market. I ran into a group of American tourists in the Grapefruit lineup on Friday of Pride weekend and they weren’t even aware of the intricacies of the local bar scene let alone the culture. The only reason they were at Grapefruit was to see the inside of the club where parts of the American Queer as Folk were filmed. They ranged in age from 20 to 40 but collectively they seemed to have only two concerns: Where were the backrooms and how were the baths? They’d done one of the two majors the night before and were going to do the other about a minute after getting sick of the Fly lineup.

The good news is that these cravings are easily met. No need to bring in the high-priced entertainment or pretend that this is still a political event. (This year’s human rights display at The 519 was a nice try but you know you’re in trouble when the volunteers’ T-shirts are prettier than the display.) Just go with the sex venues.

I’m thinking a giant bathhouse on the waterfront, maybe housed in a big white tent connected to Sunnyside pool with the local oaks and maples subbing for palms in a tropical/desert-oasis theme. The white canvas would go well with the towels. I mean it’s not like you need the Church St infrastructure to host a sex event. You can do a blackout party pretty much anywhere.

There’s no reason to have Pride in the village. People yammer on about the history of the area but the real sources of gay power have shifted elsewhere, to the gentrified enclaves of Leslieville and Parkdale, and the only reason Pride is still held in the village is because local residents, most of whom remain renters, are powerless to resist. (Politicians routinely ignore renters on the theory that only owners vote.) Oh, and it brings in a lot of money for internet-ravaged bars.

Otherwise it makes far more sense to have this thing somewhere big and spacious like the Lakeshore. Caribana, too, started out in the centre of the city, on Yonge and then University, before moving to the CNE and Lakeshore Boulevard in 1991. I think it’s time Pride did the same.