Toronto: 5 Highlights from WorldPride
It was ten incredibly action packed gay days, with scores of events and parties that would have each on their own been worthy of traveling to attend. At the end of it all, WorldPride Toronto came to a sweltering climax on Sunday as some 2 million people watched North America’s largest ever gay parade. The day’s threatened rain held off until the early evening, lasting only long enough to cool everyone off. Then, as if sent with perfect timing by the gay gods, a glorious rainbow crossed the sky above the closing ceremony and concert, headlined by Canadian twin sister band Tegan and Sara.
Indeed, so much rainbow-ity happened around Toronto during WorldPride that it often felt like channel-surfing on a real-life-and very, very gay-TV. Early on in the proceedings one had to simply accept that one simply could not do everything, nor even close to everything, going on around this positively super-gayified city-and that actually added to the thrill of it all, as one forged a plan each day but ultimately let go and let things happen. (Choir of Dolly Parton impersonators? Check. Voguers at an open-air rooftop champagne brunch? Yep. Judy Garland impersonator singing for you with jockstrapped stripper? Sure, for a few minutes, why not.) Undoubtedly it was one of the best times to be traveling as part of a large international pack of journalists, who would invariably bump (or admittedly sometimes stumble) into each other at random times throughout the week so as to be able to share the tales of our different explorations and escapades.
As my sleep-deprived, experience-overloaded, and fairly booze-addled brain looks back on an incredible several days-days that have not only firmly established Toronto as one of the world’s top Pride destinations, but also set the bar very high for the next WorldPride in Madrid in 2017-here were the highlights for me:
The WorldPride Human Rights Conference
This certainly wasn’t the first Pride on the planet to have a human rights conference element, but WorldPride Toronto’s version kicked some serious butt, with three jam-packed days including talks by huge gay icons like Edie Windsor and former Icelandic prime minister Jhanna Sigurardttir, powerful global LGBT leaders like Uganda’s Dr. Frank Mugisha and Russia’s Masha Gessen, and scores of important panel sessions on themes ranging from Two-Spirit activism to asexuality in sex education.
Celebration of Love: A Grand Pride Wedding
The beautiful gardens of Toronto’s famed Casa Loma mansion were the setting for a very moving ceremony uniting some 120 LGBT couples of all ages and colors and at least 12 religions. The event was hosted by Liberty Group, one of Toronto’s best-known entertainment and events management companies, which recently took over the Casa Loma property and is hoping to re-energize it as a destination for locals and visitors alike.
Over the Rainbow: Seduction and Identity at MOCCA
Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) in the trendy West Queen West neighborhood was just one of numerous museums around the city to get in on the WorldPride act. It hosted not one, but two queer-themed exhibitions, both of which continue through August 17. The unmissable show for me was "Over the Rainbow: Seduction and Identity," which for the first time presents a comprehensive look at the collection of Toronto philanthropist Salah Bachir and his partner, artist Jacob Yerex. The exhibition includes more than a hundred gay-themed works by major artists like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Attila Richard Lukacs and Herb Ritts-not to mention a full frontal photo of Richard Gere.
Don’t call it a parade-this Saturday procession was (and always is at Toronto’s Pride) a far more protest-based grassroots political demonstration for women. Kicking off with an emotional rally at Allan Gardens, the WorldPride Dyke March then set off through the Gay Village-led with gusto by the Dykes on Bikes, natch.
The official numbers are still being crunched, but one thing’s for certain: Toronto’s WorldPride Parade was massive, and by far the biggest ever on the North American continent. Even normal Toronto Pride parades get a million spectators, and this one likely doubled that. For an entire gloriously long Sunday afternoon, Yonge Street (one of the main arteries of the city’s Gay Village) was packed to the gills with revelers cheering on the five-hour plus-procession. In a nutshell, overflowing with joy and simply magical.
The rainbow supernova may be over now, but these ten days on the global LGBT stage have helped spread the gospel about Toronto’s large, vibrant, inviting and very diverse gay scene, and its extremely well organized and forward-looking Pride. "This is all about cementing Toronto’s place as a Pride destination," Toronto Tourism’s VP of Communications Andrew Weir told us journalists early on in the festivities. Mission accomplished.