Toronto Pride 2012: Out, Loud, and Proud
"We call this a loonie," she said, holding the coin to the sunlight. It was brand new, freshly minted, which was what had caught our attention. "See the loon? Most of the our coins have animals on them."
A loonie for the Canadian dollar coin - and a toonie for the two-dollar coin - and such happiness in explaining a shiny disc of metal to a Toronto newbie.
They’re all like that, those Torontonians: so friendly and amiable and always willing to share a little tidbit or insight about their city. Torontonians wear civic pride the way New Yorkers wear armor. They want to show you a good time in the town they call home - and especially during Toronto Pride.
One of the world’s largest Pride celebrations with an estimated attendance of 1.2 million people, Toronto Pride is a two-time winner of "Best Festival in Canada" and one of the "Top 50 Festivals" in Ontario, as well as one of Toronto’s eight city-designated signature events. The ten-day Pride Week includes a three-day street festival during which Church Street, the backbone of Toronto’s Gay Village, is closed to all but pedestrians and subsequently becomes a utopian amalgam of Mardi Gras, Halloween, and the LGBT home planet.
Nearly 300 entertainers, including such world-class DJs and performers as Larry Tee, Tom Stephan (Superchumbo), Lady Miss Kier, Corey Hart, Naked Boys Singing, Mickey Friedmann, Stephan Grondin, Javier Medina, and dozens of others perform on seven stages spread out across 24 city blocks, making the entire neighborhood an ongoing spectacle of non-stop, live entertainment.
A city of 2.4 million residents (with a metropolitan population of over 6 million), Toronto’s greater LGBT population numbers about 650,000 - but during Toronto Pride, the more appropriate acronym is LGBTTIQQ2SA, which means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited, and Allies, which basically includes the entire population of Toronto, which might be one good reason why nearly everyone within vicinity turns out for Toronto Pride to party all day and night and howl at the moon.
While most other cities around the world celebrate Pride with a march or a parade, Toronto has three: the Dyke March, the Trans March, and the Pride Parade. With more than 150 floats and marching (or dancing) contingents, this year’s Pride Parade included sponsors such as Trojan, Viagra, Bud Light, and Google - or, in other words, sex, alcohol, and technology, the holy trinity of modern gay life.
Early on Sunday morning, Torontonians and tourists start lining up behind the barricades along Bloor and Yonge Street (which is, incidentally, the longest street in the world at nearly 1,200 miles) and remain there, five-deep, for the duration of the cacophonous celebration.
Toronto’s finest wear rainbow boas and share hugs and photographs with resplendent drag queens. Children wave rainbow flags and grandparents cheer their gay grandchildren and spectators line the rooftops as confetti bombs explode in the streets. Nearly everyone is smiling, evoking that sense of "collective joy" that historian Barbara Ehrenreich chronicled in "Dancing in the Streets," her study of communal celebrations.
A non-profit organization, with over 1,300 volunteers, Toronto Pride maintains an environmentally friendly footprint throughout the ten-day street fair and festival, with no Styrofoam, numerous recycling stations, and high-efficiency LED stage lights.
Over at Green Space on Church, the four-day festival in Cawthra Square Park is "celebrating difference" for the benefit of the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Brilliantly programmed by Ian Abinakle with a roster of all-star DJs including Frankie Knuckles, Ana Paula, Abel, Isaac Escalante, and hosts including Eliad Cohen and performers such as Sofonda Cox, all of the proceeds from the all-day parties (more than $250,000) support the 519’s community programs. With a disco ball spinning in the night sky amidst an illuminated forest of rainbow-colored trees, thousands of people dance in joyful exultation alongside Toronto’s AIDS Memorial. And so it is that the spirits of those who came before, paving the paths of protest and activism, join with us in "collective joy."
This year’s Grand Marshal Goran Miletic, an LGBT civil rights advocate for Western Balkan and Southern European countries, is also the organizer for "Equality for Sexual Minorities" conferences, a poignant reminder that Toronto Pride’s freedoms and joys provide a beacon of hope for LGBT Pride events around the world.
One of the most diverse populations in the world, the citizenry of Toronto includes over 200 ethnic groups, speaking more than 130 languages and dialects. More than fifty percent of Toronto’s populace was born outside Canada - and only Miami, Florida in the US has a higher percentage of foreign-born citizens. The point being, Toronto exists as a city and population showing the rest of the world how it’s done: how to celebrate difference in the name of diversity and pride.
Nearly thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States, Upper Canada banned slavery in 1834, enabling escaped African-Americans to settle in Toronto. More than 175 years later, Toronto’s spirit of inclusion serves as a bellwether of pride for LGBT people the world over.
Small wonder then that the next World Pride will be held in Toronto in 2014. Mark your calendars - and celebrate Pride with the world.
WHERE TO STAY:
Hilton Toronto Hotel: First of all, this is not your grandmother’s Hilton. Oh, no, far from it - although if your grandmother is as sophisticated, urban, and stylish as Carmen Dell’Orefice, she’ll have a wonderful time in residence at this cosmopolitan urban retreat.
Located between the financial and entertainment districts of downtown Toronto, the Hilton Toronto Hotel is right next door to the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts (home of the Canadian Opera Company) and a few short blocks from Hudson Bay Company’s flagship store and Toronto’s largest downtown mall, Toronto Eaton Centre.
Built in 1980 and renovated in 2000, the Hilton Toronto Hotel recently put the finishing touches on a new renovation of the main lobby and restaurant, which has resulted in an open floor plan and a buzzing night scene at Tundra, the Hilton Toronto Hotel’s celebrated cocktail bar, lounge, and restaurant, helmed by Chef Kevin Prendergast.
Rooms on the Executive floors are contemporary and elegant, with jaw-dropping views of the Toronto skyline. Amenities include complimentary high-speed Internet, nightly turndown service, and ergonomic desk chairs. Guests on the Executive floors have access to the Executive Lounge on the 32nd floor, where a breakfast buffet is served alongside panoramic views of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower. Evening cocktails and an honor bar are supplemented by hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, making the Executive Lounge a lovely perch from which to witness the segue from day into evening.
In clement weather, the hotel’s heated indoor/outdoor pool is framed by a lushly landscaped terrace (and herb garden) with lounge chairs and bird’s eye views of neighboring office towers. There are few things so indulgent as enjoying the perquisites of an urban resort - while all around you, people scribble at their desks.
One of the joys of a respite at the Hilton Toronto Hotel is the well-managed and courteous staff, all of whom are as professional as they are friendly. Your grandmother would be impressed - and you’ll be happy hosting a cocktail party in her honor in your Hilton Toronto Executive suite.
LINK: Hilton Toronto Hotel
(Travel feature continues on next pages: What to Do, Where to Eat, Getting There...)