Let’s be honest — Toronto does not feel ready to host the world’s gay masses in a little more than a year. When winter bids adieu and the snow melts on Church Street, the strip always feels a bit sad. This year, however, there is something foreboding about it. They are coming. And this is what we have to show them.
Meanwhile, despite their success in getting out of debt and righting a once-troubled ship, there have been worrying signals from those in charge. In a very public cock-up of their WorldPride theme announcement in January, the team at Pride Toronto prematurely released a video featuring the Parachute Club’s “Rise Up” before they’d secured the rights to use the song. What’s worse, the sophomoric video (thankfully, only a few were able to view it before it was hastily taken down) was a study in how not to do PR. It featured what appeared to be a series of mostly straight drunken Halloween revellers. One man sang the praises of several Toronto neighbourhoods yet failed to mention the gay village.
It’s the same story with the lamentable WorldPride logo, a collection of rainbow-coloured falling leaves created not by gay people, but on the cheap by Tourism Toronto. Then again, withered foliage that once clung proudly to a strong tree may be an appropriate metaphor for the Church Wellesley Village in the wider city of Toronto.
But why do we feel the need to use the rainbow for every gay representation? Gay people are supposed to be imaginative; let’s move beyond it. The Church Wellesley Village BIA’s new gateway markers are a case in point. Who thought these were a good idea? And regrettable design aside, aren’t “gateway markers” supposed to stand opposite each other as a sort of, you know, gateway to a neighbourhood?
Perhaps the greatest disappointment is the City of Toronto’s complete lack of interest in contributing to an improvement of the gaybourhood and thus increasing the potential to bring in bucketloads of tourist dollars. Casinos and the Pan Am Games, instead, consume those at city hall. A study way back in 2006 found that Pride Week brings $99 million into the regional economy every year and creates more than 800 jobs in Ontario. So with WorldPride coming in 2014, the city surely has recognized the opportunity to introduce Toronto to thousands of new gay tourists — and hopefully kindle a love for the city, drawing them back, wallets bulging with pink currency. Nope.
An office was instead created to prepare for the 2015 Pan Am Games, and councillors have earmarked tens of millions for the one-off sporting event, including up to $23 million for soil remediation, whatever that means, on the parcel of land in Scarborough to be used for the Pan Am Aquatics Centre. Toronto’s shortsighted councillors obviously did not read the literature out of Winnipeg after that city hosted the Pan Am Games in 1999. “If one was to ask: ‘On an investment of $130 million, what did we get for it?’ most would be hard-pressed to come up with a significant list,” Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz told the National Post in 2008.
Sadly, Pride Toronto remains last among those cultural organizations that receive money from the city. It got just $123,807 in 2012. (Not even enough to buy two more rainbow gateway markers to complete the set.)
Yet there are some glimmers of hope. Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has worked doggedly at lighting fires under the rear ends of apathetic Village business owners. Her idea for a mural project has taken off and is a good start to rejuvenating the area where, like it or not, most of WorldPride will take place. And Xtra recently sat down with Mathieu Chantelois, one of the people behind the wildly successful Cawthra Park Green Space Pride parties in support of The 519. His team is organized and resourceful and last year brought in more than $224,000. Their artwork puts Pride’s rainbow leaves to shame, and they’ll soon be announcing an exciting new project that will radically alter the geography of this summer’s Pride festivity.
Yet Chantelois expressed frustration that potential partners at Pride Toronto and the Church Wellesley Village BIA have so far spurned his requests for cooperation. It’s a position those groups may want to reconsider — Chantelois’s team is burgeoning with creative energy, and they have shown they can turn a big profit. If our oft-divided and underfunded community is going to pull off a WorldPride to be proud of, this silo mentality has got to go. When the snow melts on Church Street three years from now, the Pan Am athletes will have long gone home and Rob Ford’s city hall will hopefully be a distant memory. But our community, and its awesome annual Pride celebration, will remain. Let’s work together to keep making it even better, if only for ourselves.