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Pick of the crop

Toronto isn't the only Pride on offer

HOMETOWN PRIDE. Hamilton Pride boasts one of the largest Pride celebrations in southwestern Ontario.

At Toronto’s annual Pride Parade hundreds of thousands of people line the streets. Festivities go on for well over a week, tourists come to town to party hard and oodles of money is pumped into the local economy.

But while so much of our attention is focussed on the intersection of Church and Wellesley, smaller Pride celebrations take place all over the GTA and beyond. Some communities try to get a jump-start on the celebrations, like Guelph, which held its big Pride party in late May, while other communities hold their festivities smack-dab in the middle of the traditional Pride season. Here’s just a sample of some of the other local communities celebrating Pride this year.

Durham Pride, Fri, Jun 8 – 10

For the fourth year Durham region, a collection of communities just east of Toronto, will be holding Durham Pride. There’ll be no parade; the big event is a barbecue and dance featuring speaker local MP Mark Holland at the Masonic Temple (91 Centre St S, in Oshawa).

The idea for Durham Pride began as a joke among friends sitting around a Whitby backyard. Shelley Hillier, chair of Durham Pride, moved to Whitby in 2000 and soon discovered that there were more than 30 other homos living in her neighbourhood. An ad hoc social group formed and one day someone joked there were so many queers in the ‘hood that they could throw their own Pride party.

A collective light bulb went on, Hillier recalls. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Why not?'”

That first year — billed as Whitby Pride — about 150 people gathered for a Saturday afternoon picnic in Whitby’s Heydonshore Park, followed by a Sunday dinner at a local restaurant. In its second year, the dinner morphed into a dance at Club 717, an Oshawa gay bar.

This year, the evening shindig had to be moved to a bigger venue; Hillier is expecting more than 250 people to attend.

But with Toronto so close by, why have a separate Pride in Durham?

“The biggest reason,” says Hillier, “is that we have a very large gay youth community here in Durham and they shouldn’t feel like they have to go into the city to feel that sense of community.”

For more information and a schedule of events go to Durhampride.org.

Hamilton Pride, Jun 9 – 17

Hamilton has one of the more vibrant queer scenes in southwestern Ontario, and its weeklong Pride celebration is evidence of that.

In fact, Hamilton Pride’s slate of events rivals any metropolitan city’s Pride celebration — the parade down James St, a festival main stage with headliner Ashley MacIsaac, an art crawl, the Mr And Miss Hamilton Pride Pageant, a queer issues symposium, a Pride Awards gala to benefit the AIDS Network Of Hamilton and a post-parade afternoon party and barbecue. And that’s just the free events. There’s also a women’s dance, a live male revue at Central Spa and other ticketed Pride parties.

This year will mark the 11th-annual Hamilton Pride Festival, but a Pride celebration of some sort has been held in Hammertown since 1991. Back then, organizers couldn’t even bring themselves to use the words “gay” or “pride,” so the event was simply called Festival ’91. The Gay And Lesbian Alliance Of Hamilton, led by founder Joe Oliver, asked then-mayor Bob Morrow to officially recognize the event. When Morrow refused, Oliver spearheaded a human rights complaint. In 1995 the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled in the group’s favour. Morrow was ordered to pay $5,000 as well as proclaim Gay Pride Week that year.

Last year’s parade was marred by drunken soccer fans — the World Cup was going on at the same time — who interrupted the parade with antigay violence and slurs. One person was arrested.

Despite last year’s incidents, Hamilton Pride marches on, with the post-parade festival to be held at Pier 4 Park (at Guise St and Leander Dr). Unlike 1991, the festivities have the blessing of current mayor Fred Eisenberger.

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

Queen West’s Queer West Fest, Jun 15 – 22

Toronto’s Queen West area is sometimes referred to as the city’s second gay village and is deserving of its own Pride festivities, say organizers of the new Queer West Fest.

Not that Pride is a new phenomenon on this side of town. Last year, it was called Parkdale Pride, a name that made it sound like it was limited to that neighbourhood, says self-described “festival innovator” Bryen Dunn. Unlike Pride Toronto, “Ours is not a city festival, it’s a community festival,” says Dunn.

There’s no parade down Queen St. Rather, there are events at a handful of the many queer and queer-friendly businesses in the neighbourhood. These include the official launch party at Rhino Bar And Grill (1249 Queen St W) and the Mix And Mingle Community Fair at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St W).

Dunn says the use of the word “queer” in the festival’s name is not just a play on the word “Queen.” It’s also a more apt way of describing the neighbourhood, its businesses and its Pride.

“While the Church-Wellesley Village is more male dominated, Queen West is much more mixed,” says Dunn. “Not just that we have more lesbians here. We also mean queer in the sense that things are much more odd here.”

Queer West Fest is also a way to get more people to realize that there is indeed a second gay village to be explored all year long.

“We really want to bring attention to Queen West,” says Dunn. “We want people to come out to our part of town and see that there are other options.”

For more information and a schedule of events go to Gaywest.905host.net/files/prideday.php.

Niagara Pride, Jun 1 – 27

When you think of Niagara you may think of the famous falls, cheesy honeymoons and lots of casinos. You don’t necessarily think of Pride. But Niagara will be throwing its third annual Pride party this month, and organizers say this year’s will be the biggest ever.

St Catharines is the hub of Niagara Pride activities, but for the first time ever the city of Niagara Falls will be hoisting the rainbow flag over its city hall, courtesy of mayor Ted Salci.

The cornerstone events of this year’s celebration will be the Pride Dance at Club Social in Welland (810 East Main St) and the Pride Picnic at Burgoyne Woods in St Catharines (at Edgedale Rd off Glenridge Ave), hosted by Niagara Pride Support Services. There’s also two special screenings sponsored by the LGTBQ Film Club, one focussing on queer men in movies, the other on queer women.

OutNiagara is the driving force behind Niagara Pride. “When we started, it was just a picnic,” says cochair Ed Eldred, “then our goal became to have something bigger than just a picnic. And, frankly, we just wanted to see if we could get the flag flying above [St Catharines] city hall.”

Geographically, the Niagara Region is surrounded by communities with much larger Pride celebrations — Hamilton, Toronto and even Buffalo.

“There are people in Niagara who don’t like or won’t go to Toronto,” says Eldred. “Pride there is so big. It’s a real party. But there are others who are looking for something to do other than party.

“We want to recognize our own community, no matter how small it might be. We thought it was important to identify with others in our own community, rather than go somewhere else.”

For more information and a schedule of events go to Outniagara.ca/-pride07.htm.

Pride Scarborough, Thu, Jun 21

For the third year, Toronto’s easternmost borough is hosting its own Pride event.

“Yes, we are part of Toronto, but you can feel very disconnected here,” says organizer Ronni Gorman. “When it comes to services for the community, it can feel more like Oshawa than Toronto.”

So people in Scarborough had an idea. “Throw up a whole bunch of rainbow flags, show up, make a lot of noise and see what the reaction is,” says Gorman.

The reaction was not only supportive, but also instructive. “We heard a lot about the lack of services here in Scarborough,” she says. “The good news is that we have a lot of support from downtown agencies to have services available here.”

Scarborough’s initial Pride event two years ago had support and participation from 25 different community agencies, says Gorman. But it was held in the middle of the day, so many people who wanted to attend were not able to. As a result, fewer than 100 turned out. Last year, attendance grew to 150.

This year, plans are bigger than ever, with live entertainment and local entertainer Ryan G Hinds as host. Plus, the event extends into the evening, so that people can attend after work. It also allows people to go downtown later that evening to take part in Pride Toronto events.

The goal, as far as attendance goes, is to get 300 people at Pride Scarborough this year, says Gorman. But the real goal “is to raise awareness and create a positive and safe space in Scarborough.”

Pride Scarborough takes place on Thu, Jun 21 from 2pm to 7pm at the Scarborough Civic Centre (150 Borough Dr). For more information call (416) 760-2938.