Toronto :: Celebrating Diversity Year Round
A dreary mix of icy rain and sleet stalled incoming flights at Toronto’s Pearson airport. When I finally bumbled into Voglie, a hip restaurant on Church Street in the heart of Toronto’s gay village, I was weary. Christopher Barry, a manager at Tourism Toronto, greeted me with a wide smile and an even bigger hug. "Why has it taken you two years to get back to Toronto?" he asked. Justine Palinska, Christopher’s talented and vivacious colleague, buzzed around the room, introducing me to others as a long lost friend. Within minutes, it was as if I had always lived here.
Later, walking to my hotel two blocks from the village, The Marriott Bloor Yorkville (the only hotel in Toronto with direct access to the Bloor/Yonge subway), I was greeted on the street by several passersby who cheerfully walked through the slush to one of several pubs on the block.
Toronto’s friendliness works magic on you. It’s an inclusive, vibrant free-zone. It’s a place where a stranger who literally drops out of the sky and shakes the slush off his coat is greeted with open arms.
In Canada, an issue like gay marriage is, simply put, not an issue. Same-sex marriage has been legal in all Canadian provinces since the passage of the Civil Marriage Act in 2005. When I tell our northern neighbors how hotly contested the issue of same-sex marriage is in most of the States (save for a handful that have legally adopted it) and how well funded lobbyists are working against its adoption, they look at me with incredulity.
But that doesn’t mean Torontonians take their hard-won freedoms for granted. On the contrary, if it weren’t for the organized efforts of the many and the few, the diversity the city’s residents enjoy would be non-existent.
Diversity will be on display in a big way when Toronto hosts their 30th annual Pride Day this summer. An estimated 1.5 million people are expected to attend. Yet pride is not a one-time event in Toronto, it’s an ongoing commitment, part of the fabric of the city and its residents.
Here are profiles of three Toronto residents who help make sure Toronto remains inclusive all year long: David Wootton, Tracey Sandilands and Stephen Chan.
David Wootton, Church-Wellesley Village
Church-Wellesley Village’s David Wootton
David Wootton is managing director of the Church-Wellesley Village (www.churchwellesleyvillage.ca), which bills itself as "Toronto’s largest LGBT neighborhood." He’s a consummate grass roots organizer who fights to preserve the gay village’s special quality of life.
"In order to keep the village as a premier queer destination," Wooten says, "we have to support the businesses that are here, and provide services. We do this through events, festivals and public awareness campaigns. These require ongoing negotiations with the city. We go door to door to remind residents to do their shopping here, and we tell them if they don’t, these businesses are going to disappear."
A few of the business/special features in the Church-Wellesley Village include Woody’s, a raucous gay bar; Irish O’Grady’s, boasting a large patio for outdoor imbibing and people watching during the good weather; a community center; a leash-free dog park; and numerous bars, bathhouses and bistros. It’s also home to Buddies in the Bad Times Theatre, a showplace for original plays on LGBT themes.
Wootton edits a neighborhood newsletter, keeps their website up-to-date, writes articles for the gay weekly Xtra, appears on the radio, and can be found at countless meetings and serving on as many community boards, all necessary functions in order to keep the neighborhood alive. He also fundraises for two events the neighborhood hosts each year: Hallo-week in the fall, and the Fetish Festival in the summer.
"The costs to run these events are staggering. When we close the street," he says, "they city charges us $20,000, and then we have to hire security for the event, too." he told me. "Both events can be edgy; vendors come from all over, and last year we doubled the number of people attending. We have many more ideas on how to promote the village, all of which goes toward raising awareness that the gay village is a welcoming, diverse, safe, and vibrant neighborhood open to all."
:: More on Toronto Pride continued on page 2 ::