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A reveller gets into the spirit of Pride with a giant red wig. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
A reveller gets into the spirit of Pride with a giant red wig. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Pride: Turning barriers into bridges Add to ...

In the wild days that followed police raids of Toronto's bath houses in 1981, Rev. Brent Hawkes was one of the loudest voices in the city's gay community. The pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church staged a hunger strike to press the province for a public inquiry and took to the streets during the angry protests of the ensuing months.

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"During a demonstration, the police were clearing the street, an elderly gay man had fallen and I was trying to help him," he recalled. "I was grabbed and held by two cops while a third one punched me."

On the other side of the barricades at some of those protests was Bill Blair, then a front-line patrol officer downtown.

Thirty years on, as Mr. Hawkes prepared for an open-air church service on the morning of Sunday's Pride parade, Chief Blair strode up to him, shook his hand and bent over to whisper in his ear before the pair shared a few minutes of private conversation.

The two are allies and personal friends - Mr. Hawkes officiated at the marriage of the chief's son last year - in one of the most tangible examples of the bridges built between the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community and the institutions of the country's largest city.

"We've been reaching over those barricades and working hard to take them down," the chief said.

Everywhere on Sunday, the parade's transformation from marginalized protest to raucous civic celebration was evident: Trade-union members marched with drag queens, while naked men wielding water guns doused float-riding bank employees. More than one million people, by some estimates, lined Yonge Street sidewalks, crowded onto balconies and hung from trees to take in the spectacle.

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was there, along with provincial cabinet ministers, federal politicians and about one-third of Toronto's city council.

It made the absence of one man, Rob Ford, all the more stark. The mayor skipped every Pride-related event throughout the week and opted to spend Sunday at his cottage.

Some marchers mocked him with the playful spirit of Pride, carrying a banner that read: "We found Waldo … but where's Rob Ford?!" in front of a diptych displaying a cartoon image of the mayor next to the striped-shirt children's book protagonist.

Derek Thompson and his friends, meanwhile, donned paper masks with Mr. Ford's likeness.

"This is only one day of the year, he could come," said the 38-year-old health care worker. "We're taxpayers."

But for the most part, participants were more interested in political issues other than the chief magistrate's no-show. Hundreds of high school students turned out to protest against Catholic officials' refusal to permit gay-straight alliances in their schools; thousands carried placards demanding transgender people be included in Canada's human rights code after a bill guaranteeing such protection was defeated this year in the Senate; and many too young to remember all the battles of the past were eager to honour those who had fought so hard for the acceptance that has become a hallmark of the city's identity.

"For me, being here is celebration for everything that we've accomplished over the years, starting from the bath house raids to right now," said Steven Ly, a 15-year-old Catholic school student from Mississauga, Ont.

Mr. Hawkes, for his part, suggested the same work that had led to those achievements pointed to the path to victory in current struggles, including attempts to win Mr. Ford over.

"We can be disappointed, absolutely, but we have to be really careful not to demonize our enemies and push them into a corner," he said. "We've got to build another bridge."

With a report from Chantaie Allick

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

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