34 min

Toronto raises the Pride and trans flags at a time of tragedy

‘There is no precedent, no template of healing that we can draw upon,’ says Kristyn Wong-Tam

Toronto city Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto’s only openly LGBT councillor, speaks at the rainbow and trans flag raising on June 1, 2018 at city hall. Credit: Nick Lachance/Xtra

The annual Toronto Pride flag raising at city hall felt different this year.

It wasn’t just the provincial election which is slated a week from now, though that helped. NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who has been surging in the polls the last few weeks, got rapturous applause from the audience. And the spectre of Doug Ford becoming premier was surely on people’s minds. After all, his brother Rob Ford never attended a Pride parade, and only once grudgingly attended a flag raising, during his mayoralty.

Much of the scene was familiar. As in years past, Mayor John Tory was loose and jovial, despite the sweltering heat. Both the Pride flag and the trans flag were raised together, a practice that started last year, and now appears to be cemented as Toronto tradition. Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto’s only openly LGBT councillor, was again master of ceremonies, though she quipped that after the October municipal election, she’s hopeful she’ll be joined by a few more.

But it was a name that no one said that haunted the procession. Or perhaps it’s better thought of as eight names that haunted it.

As will likely be the case throughout this Pride season, the fact that an alleged serial killer was allowed to hunt Toronto’s LGBT community for at least a decade loomed large.

“Our community has been rocked by tragedy. The last several months have been a time of grief, frustration, anger and uncertainty for so many in our community,” Wong-Tam said. “What has happened in our city is historic. There is no precedent, no template of healing that we can draw upon.”

And the other acts of unimaginable violence that have rocked Toronto in the past few months — an incel terror attack and a still yet-to-explained bombing of an Indian restaurant in neighbouring Mississauga — gave an even greater sense of calamity to the proceedings.

“We have been confronted with unimaginable acts of violence against community members and as such, that means those are acts of violence against our very way of life that we so cherish,” Tory said.

Despite the tragedies, the lightness, festivity and fun of Pride were still on display. In Pride’s DNA is a radical notion that one of the best ways to confront hatred is to dance and celebrate and to live fully.

There’s no doubt this June won’t be any different. But the pain will surely stand in even sharper relief this summer.

When Forte, Toronto’s gay men’s chorus, sang Melissa Etheridge’s “Pulse,” a song that was written about the Orlando shooting, that felt very clear.

Once again I hang my head to cry

I can’t find the reason why they died

We will find the answer

Blowing in the wind

That everybody’s got a pulse