It is the largest family reunion in North America. An event that in one weekend draws the same number of people to downtown Toronto as the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede is expected to bring in over 10 days.
Even the CNE, Canada’s largest fair, attracts a measly 1.3 million people over 18 days. The annual exhibition would have to bring in more than 20 million people in that time just to match Toronto Pride’s Sunday haul.
There are few events the size and scale of Toronto Pride anywhere in the world, never mind in our small country. There are arguably none anywhere near as fun.
And this year, in its 32nd installment and after several years of drama and maladministration, it went off without a hitch (well, unless you count newlyweds Carter Etherington and Breken Elwood, who tied the knot during this year’s parade).
Both Pride Toronto and City of Toronto staff, including city police, should be congratulated for this successful event. Unlike some officials, the police seem to have finally recognized what a good thing Pride is for Toronto — for city coffers, but more importantly as a way to bring our exceptionally diverse and multicultural city together for a great big queer blowout.
There were welcome reports that police relaxed rules around public drinking, and I saw more than one on-duty officer having much more fun than his or her job would typically entail.
It is ironic that members of our city’s Pride board flew to London following this year’s festival to study how that city deals with hosting WorldPride. The global gay gathering there was coming apart at the seams as Toronto’s celebration (and demonstration) was being executed here with what looked like ease.
In retrospect, the folks organizing WorldPride London should probably have boarded a plane to Toronto to see how it’s done. Either way, I’m sure Pride Toronto’s contingent took the baton in London confident that they are ready to bring the best WorldPride to Toronto in 2014.
When they arrive home, the Pride Toronto team should take time to reflect on what they did right and what they could improve to make Pride even better in the years to come.
Thankfully, Toronto now has a Pride board that is introspective and listens to the community. Looking back on the suggestions put forward by the community advisory panel (CAP) in February 2011, it is obvious Pride Toronto was not simply paying lip service when it accepted and embraced the group’s 133 recommendations.
It has worked to heal rifts with the trans community and with Torontonians of colour. It has de-corporatized the festival and reintroduced a much-needed spirit of activism. It has outsourced parts of the event to community groups, including allowing The 519 to run what is perhaps Pride’s most successful beer garden. It has also dealt, well ahead of schedule, with what CAP chair Brent Hawkes in 2011 called Pride Toronto’s “biggest challenge” — its finances.
In a short time the organization has gone from deeply indebted to comfortably back in the black. Going forward, however, Pride Toronto’s biggest challenge remains financial. Now that its board has shown it can be parsimonious, it’s time to wean Pride off the City of Toronto’s fairweather teat.
It is no longer acceptable that disruptive groups like Kulanu and B’nai Brith (and their crony supporters at city hall and the Toronto Sun) can threaten this massive, diverse, 32-year-old celebration and protest simply because they don’t agree with the legitimate message of some participants. I may not agree with Kulanu’s message — hell, I don’t agree with the messages delivered by many parade participants — but I should not be allowed to undermine Pride and call for it to be defunded for that reason. The same rule should apply to Kulanu and any other group that would destabilize Pride for political purposes.
Pride Toronto needs to get creative and ensure similar nonsense does not upset future planning, especially ahead of WorldPride. For if there is one thing that is as certain as Pride’s massive and growing participation and the huge sums of money it brings into our city, it is the existence of homophobic politicians who will foolishly spurn our party because they continue to be blinded by their own ignorance and prejudice.
To these pancake flippers, Pride must be able to say, Stuff it — we don’t care and we don’t need you. Until we can do that, North America’s best Pride will remain at risk.