Community & Current Events

WorldPride 2014: How Pride Day has changed over the years

By: Doug O'Neill

Photo courtesy of Stringer/Canada/Reuters/Corbis Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo courtesy of Stringer/Canada/Reuters/Corbis

Community & Current Events

WorldPride 2014: How Pride Day has changed over the years

By: Doug O'Neill

It was a sunny afternoon in 1983 and I was lost in a sea of '80s pastels that spilled onto the lawn at the University of Toronto's King's College Circle. It was my first Gay Pride Festival. The Parachute Club's Lorraine Segato (who hadn't yet come out as lesbian—perhaps another sign of the times) belted out "Rise Up, Rise Up" from the back of a flatbed truck. It was a smallish event (several thousand folks, unlike today's parade, which attracts upwards of one million people) and very militant (passionate chants of "gay rights now" filled the air).

I don't think we planned on it, but my friend Denny and I wound up marching in the parade that day. Spurred on by the excitement of what was, for me, a gay rite of passage (part of my coming out, if you will), we leapt into the procession at the first opening.

Twenty minutes in, we discovered we were marching under the Gay Baptists' banner. My cousin still teases me: "Had we seen you on the 6 o'clock news, we would have shrieked, ‘The Baptists have got him, the Baptists have got him!'" (For the record, don't believe anyone who says that Baptists, straight or otherwise, don't know how to dance.)

On the eve of WorldPride 2014 in Toronto, I've found myself reflecting on Pride Day and how it has evolved over the years. For starters, I remember it was once called Gay Pride, then Lesbian and Gay Pride, then somewhere along the way the acronym LGBT appeared. Embracing a queer identity (and taking the nasty sting out of that word) has introduced one more letter: LGBTQ. In the last several years, it has become an alphabet soup of diversity with the hashtag: #LGBTTIQQ2SA. (If you're curious—no pun intended—that abbreviation represents a spectrum of identities including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited and allies.)

For me, the most significant shift has been the tenor of Pride celebrations. The militancy of that first Pride festival in the '80s was soon replaced by the sombreness of the AIDS epidemic, then an overriding message of diversity as more groups, especially lesbian and gay ethnic communities, joined the festivities. Today, Pride has become Canada's answer to Mardi Gras, though not without layers of political and social messaging. It's a party for everyone—gay, straight and all things in between.

I was in Saskatoon for Pride last year. After walking through the crowd I asked my friends, "Where are all the gay people?"  

I don't know if I'll be hearing any Parachute Club at WorldPride 2014, but that's OK. I'll be making a beeline for a country music event called Steers & Queers, where I'll be two-stepping to Dolly Parton tunes, the music of my childhood. It will be just like coming home.

WorldPride 2014 runs from June 20 to 29 in Toronto. With concerts, a conference, street parties, theatre and a humungous parade, the celebration embraces diversity and educates the world in provocative and outrageous ways. For the complete roster of events, visit worldpridetoronto.com.

Learn more about Toronto's historic Church Street, fun events happening around town and more about this fantastic event in our celebration of WorldPride 2014 in Toronto.
                                               

This story was originally titled "Pride & Joy" in the June 2014 issue.
           
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WorldPride 2014: How Pride Day has changed over the years

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