York Pride Fest will make history June 22 when its first Pride parade marches down Yonge Street in Richmond Hill.
For York Pride Fest coordinator Dave Williams, the addition to this year’s celebrations is a matter of visibility.
“For the past several years, we have hosted a booth at Toronto Pride, and many people from York Region have visited the booth and commented they never knew anything LGBT was happening in our region,” Williams says. “Too many people merely presume that only Toronto provides LGBT social opportunities and services.”
The parade and the group’s signature BBQ in the Park, which takes place Sunday, June 23, wrap up a week of celebrations that include a Pride flag-raising ceremony, social nights and a church service at the Richmond Hill United Church, which is celebrating being recognized as an “affirming ministry.”
York Pride is also proud to highlight the work of its youth contingent, which is hosting a laser quest event as part of the festivities. “The York Region Gay Straight Alliance group is actively involved in our Pride planning and hosting of events,” Williams says.
Despite the existence of many organizations and services in York Region, including the YRGSA, its PFLAG chapter and other social and support groups, Williams says, the biggest challenge is bridging the region’s “divisions.”
"It’s very much a mixed bag,” he says. “We have a north/south divide, with acceptance of diversity generally being worse in the north, for the same reasons that, worldwide, acceptance is always worse in more sparsely populated communities. We have a multicultural divide . . . we also have an age divide and religious divide.”
Williams says many of the region’s youth are more accepting of gay people — “but sadly, less so for youth who were educated in Catholic or some independent schools.”
He hopes York Pride Fest’s new parade will help with this challenge.