3 min

Pride goes off with few hitches

Sunday drew more than a million, say organizers

Despite the occasional shower and cloudy weather, organizers estimate more than one million people attended Pride on Jun 29.

“I would’ve liked a little more sunshine,” says Fatima Amarshi, Pride’s executive director, on Sunday night. “We were one of the few events that weren’t affected by SARS so if that didn’t stop us weather that’s not perfect isn’t going to.”

Amarshi says things went smoothly over Pride weekend. The biggest problem she could think of was having a generator burn out on Saturday night at the Central Stage at Church and Maitland, leaving DJs and dancers in silence for several hours.

The parade itself, with about 150 entrants, went off smoothly, clocking in at just under two hours, with the last entry departing at 4pm. But it was a long day for parade coordinator Courtney Sidsworth, who was on site at 7am after also coordinating Saturday’s Dyke March.

On Sunday Sidsworth spent nine hours running up and down a hill, dealing with late arrivals (like grand marshal Enza Anderson who had to be taxied to the parade route at the last minute), unannounced participants, last-minute cancellations, endless phone calls and radio messages, intermittent showers and abuse from marchers who didn’t see why they had to move aside to let trucks pass, all while being trailed by an Xtra reporter.

“Bet you didn’t think you’d get this much exercise,” says Sidsworth. “I like to run.”

Sidsworth’s cat-herding becomes even more impressive when one realizes that parade participants are actually divided into two groups. The floats and vehicles are lined up along Church St north of Bloor and down Rosedale Valley Rd. Those marching on foot are lined up along Bloor east of Church assigned to a number chalked on the road — and chalked again and again after showers.

Sidsworth and her crew then have to stand in the intersection of Church and Bloor and merge the two groups, so that those on foot are able to coordinate with their floats. All the while trying not to be crushed or run over by media photographers darting into the intersection to photograph happenings like NDP leader Jack Layton kissing a giant fruit.

Sidsworth also has to coordinate with the police, at one point delivering three boxes of pizza to cops blocking off Church and Jarvis.

“You have to be nice to the cops,” she says. Firefighters too, although they insist on stopping the parade dead almost as soon as they depart to unhook their hoses and spray the crowd. And having most of the emergency vehicles in the parade using their sirens and lights may have caused a little confusion as well.

The carbs certainly appear to have worked as the cops barely blink an eye at anything, even the rampant nudity. Of course Totally Nude Toronto Men Enjoying Nudity are certainly flashing the goods.

“We sort of have an understanding,” says Amarshi later. “The police understand that you can’t expect people to come to something like this and not express themselves. They tried in the past but eventually they just had to give up.”

Amarshi says she was pleased with the human rights campaign during the weekend, which included the three giant screens showing short videos about homophobic abuses around the world.

“I was walking in front with Gareth [Henry, the international grand marshal] and the human rights group,” she says. “The reception they were getting was amazing. It was very moving.

“There are always people who just want to come and hang out at Central Stage. But there are very few people who’ll be able to walk out without having thought about that for even a second.”

Amarshi was also pleased with the reception of the Proud Voices Reading Series, which this year took place on both Saturday and Sunday. She was less enthralled with attendance at the Trans Stage. The stage, new this year, was held at George Hislop Park.

“I’m surprised there wasn’t a bigger turnout at the Trans Stage,” she says. “There was so much excitement. But it’s a new stage in a new location.”

This Pride was Amarshi’s third and final as executive director.

“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “It’s been such a big part of my life for so long. It’ll be really strange not having the people around, the camaraderie. It means so much to everybody. I’m going to miss working in the community on issues that matter to me.

“On the other hand I’m looking forward to sleeping.”