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3 min

Whither Pride

On the future of our most cherished cultural event

Credit: RJ Martin photo

“The parade was sooo boring.” If Pride Toronto got a loonie every time we heard that line last summer, all the organization’s financial needs would be met. The 2005 Pride parade was boring: It took too long, there were too many yawning gaps when nothing happened, there were precious few exciting floats and there were way too many sandal-wearing churchgoers who thought waving made a good show.

So let’s kill it. Let’s cancel the Pride parade before it dies a slow tortuous death.

Sacrilege? Think about what exciting options might take its place. A carnival in Allan Gardens? A circuit party in Queen’s Park? A night parade through the village? Something surprising, sexy, gaudy, ecstatic.

We need to start thinking now about how to make fundamental changes to Pride — the parade, the weekend’s entertainment and the community fair — to maintain Toronto’s position as one of the biggest and best Pride celebrations in the world. Without change, the parade could become a mediocre spectacle that only attracts straight tourists from the ‘burbs and out-of-town ‘mos who haven’t yet discovered its limitations. If the local community disowns it, the parade could become an expensive white elephant that gets penned off by the city down at the Lakeshore. Sound familiar?

Changes are happening elsewhere. Houston and Montreal have both substituted night parades for day events. The organizing committee for Sydney’s Mardi Gras has shortened its parade and radically scaled back its functions. London, UK, is rebounding from recent disastrous experiments with a large-scale ticketed event and commercial organizers. Plenty of cities large and small are trying new and innovative ways to attract the homo travel dollar.

Yes, Toronto is the envy of many. The few paid staff and countless volunteers of Pride Toronto do an outstanding job wrestling the beast to the ground every year. So why fix something that ain’t broke? Pride seems to cracking under the weight of its own success. The crowds, the lineups, the endless milling about, a proven but uninspired entertainment formula… and then there’s the parade with its ever-growing audience who seem satisfied to just stand there, waiting to be entertained. And waiting, and waiting.

The task of Pride organizers is Herculean, so most changes they institute are about fine-tuning the existing pattern — move some community booths around a corner to improve pedestrian traffic flow or change the location of the parade’s staging area to avoid confusion. And we’ve got lots of fine-tuning suggestions, too. But we wanted first to look at the big picture, to ensure that 20 years from now people will still be talking about Toronto’s Pride with envy.

We’re not claiming to have the answers, especially the facts-on-the-ground organizational expertise required to pull off an event on this scale. But in this special series running up to Pride 2006, we at Xtra want to engage Pride Toronto and the community at large to think big about the possibilities.

Because the possibilities are endless, we thought we’d first try to lay down what fundamental qualities an exciting Pride celebration needs. We can build up from there.

We’ve come up with three basics.

1) Increase participation

We shouldn’t just stand there and watch the party prance by. We are the party. From its beginning, Pride has been an inclusive and accessible celebration of sexual liberation where queer people claim a public space, an amassing of the tribe in a Saturnalian carnival brought about by the rare opportunity for us to be in the majority

2) Increase a sense of connectedness

Structure the physical layout and the entertainment schedule so that each Pride-goer feels we are at the centre of all the fun, to avoid that feeling the party is somewhere else, to limit the endless wandering back and forth between the two big Pride stages north and south on Church looking for that elusive big moment

3) Surprise us

Structure in more risk-taking (that’s not an oxymoron). The entertainment could be less formulaic and middle of the road without being off-putting. There are also many artists and party promoters who are experts at crafting hours-long entertainments that seduce and surprise audiences: There must be ways of exploiting that expertise. And there are ways to encourage more silly behaviour on the part of Pride-goers — always the best source of surprise.

Participation, connectedness, surprise — once you start applying these principles to each aspect of Pride celebrations it becomes easier to identify deficiencies and opportunities.

I GOT THE MAYOR’S ATTENTION

I love the Pride Parade but I’ve long stopped watching it. I can’t stand being trapped in the crowds and the endless waiting. Let me share two secrets that have immeasurably improved my enjoyment of the parade — and the thousands of tourists wilting in the sun don’t know about them. 1) You can see the whole shebang, from dancing muscle boys to demented drag queens, up close and without barriers or crowds if you wander around the staging area before — and during, since it takes so long — the parade. The folks trapped on the floats for hours before they make it to Yonge St are really happy to see you. 2) You will have way more fun and, again, avoid the crowds, if you join the parade yourself. You don’t need to sign up or be on a float, just put on a silly outfit and run in. If a security guard wonders what you are doing (which happened to us last year), just lie and say your group is up ahead. Keep running. The crowds will cheer.