AWESOME. INSPIRING. OVERWHELMING. Other-worldly. Words just don’t seem to get to the crux of the feeling. Can you imagine the difficulty of describing the experience of attending the life-changing World Pride Toronto? I’m a bit of a nerd, so I really wanted to give you the standard barrage of “official facts and figures,” but unfortunately the final numbers are unavailable, so forgive me, fellow geeks, but color commentary will have to do this go ‘round.
The journey began with the drive north, and as usual for us, we got stopped at the border. (Hey, my wifey must look like someone devious because whether we travel by plane, train or automobile, she always gets questioned or detained; maybe it’s the light eyes, dark hair, fair-but-doesn’t-look-European skin—you figure it out—we just always get stopped.) While they checked our passports, we chatted with a border guard who shared that there had been a steady stream of folks headed to Toronto, but most were not as “honest” as us in admitting that they’re on their way to Pride. We had a somber moment, thinking about all the reasons why someone would be scared. We got the green light and, on our way out, made the conscious decision to scream at the top of our lungs, “Happy World Pride, for all those before and behind us who feel silenced!” That was just the beginning of a four-day bender of thinking “I am so frickin’ proud to be a big ol’ queer!”
Pride in Toronto is normally non-stop; this was a different beast altogether. When I tell you the city of Toronto gets behind its gays, my word! You could not pick up a paper, look at a billboard, or turn on the telly without something about World Pride appearing. Every business, gas station, pub, art gallery and museum was primed and waving the rainbow flag. There were exhibits in every nook and cranny, even outside of the advertised gay neighborhoods and areas. Oh, and honey childs, the parties, clubs, T-dances, women-only bathhouse (Go, Canada!) and meet-and-greets! No Joke: Spectacular.
The last Friday of the celebration is the goosebump-inducing Trans March, which was at least three hours long. The trans community and its allies did the damn thing! Over a thousand folks walked the route, and I cannot begin to estimate how many people lined the streets. I was so choked up, I could barely see. I kept laughing and wiping my eyes and just saying “thank you” to the heavens.
On Saturday, the Dyke march kicked off at 2 p.m. At 6:30 p.m. when we were coming off one of the seven official Pride stages, we learned that the march had only just ended. When we went by the park to check out the Dyke March celebration an hour later, there were still women piling into the area, blocking traffic. On Sunday, the World Pride march kicked off at 1 p.m. There were 12,500 registered participants! Imagine how many did not register! It was wall-to-wall people. There had to be close to a million folks in or along the route. The parade took six hours to complete.
I kept thinking to myself that I wished that everyone who doubts who they are, who wishes they weren’t gay or who hates on the LGBTQ people could see what I was seeing. There were droves of police officers marching for their cities and countries, and families out the wazoo. Some of the most inspiring groups were the 65+ queer activist folk—from all over the world—in wheelchairs, on walkers and with canes, all marching. They made me so proud to be there and so thankful to them for carrying the torch. I was moved when finding myself surrounded by First Nations folks who did not speak my native tongue, yet were eager to share their language for Pride with me. I had lumps in my throat as folks in paper bag masks or hoods walked by, reminding us that even this far from their countries they could not risk being recognized for fear of retaliation to themselves or their families.
Throughout the trip, I kept saying little prayers to Sylvia Rivera, thanking her for that 1969 night at the Stonewall Inn and knowing she was dancing (along with Harvey, Sylvester, Audre, Marsha P, and all our departed elders) among the twirling flags and banners, clapping and kissing cheeks. Suffice it to say: do yourself a favor and get your passport for the next Toronto Pride, and then change your life by going to World Pride Madrid 2017. I know I will.