Sunday’s WorldPride parade may go down as one of the largest Pride parades in the city’s history as thousands of participants and onlookers took to the city’s downtown core to celebrate and support LGBT rights.
To accommodate the sheer size of the parade, which began at Bloor and Church streets and took place along Yonge St. all the way to Yonge-Dundas square, organizers had to move the event’s start time from 2 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Last year’s Pride celebrations garnered 1.2-million people throughout the festival and saw about 6,000 people and 175 float entries register to take part in the parade.
Those numbers have all grown significantly as Sunday’s Pride parade had about 12,500 people and 285 float entries registered to take part in the event, according to WorldPride’s executive director Kevin Beaulieu.
It is also estimated that WorldPride attracted about two-million people throughout the 10-day long festival.
Alain Mootoo came to Toronto from his native Trinidad and Tobago in 1998 and was marching with the Caribbean float on Sunday. He describes taking part in this year’s WorldPride parade as being “very emotional” considering how it is still illegal to be gay in his home country.
“I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago and it was very hard to be gay, it was very hard to be myself and I sort of hid myself for many years and only when I came to Toronto was I able to embrace myself and come out as a gay man,” he said. “I was engaged to a woman and doing everything that was expected of me in the Caribbean and now that I’m here I’m living life with my partner and pursuing goals as a couple.”
Having been one of the keynote speakers at the WorldPride Human Rights conference, Ugandan LGBT rights activist Frank Mugisha was one of the first people to take to the streets in this year’s parade as he, along with about six others, was holding a rainbow WorldPride Toronto banner near the front of the procession.
“For me it’s very significant because I cannot do this in my country,” he said. “Being part of WorldPride shows me that [it] can expand and also be very inclusive to include countries where we don’t even think of WorldPride because there are so many countries right now, because of safety and security, that you can’t have WorldPride.”
There has been a heavy responsibility put on Toronto’s Pride committee this year to show the world what WorldPride can achieve considering that the festival has been hampered by controversy since its inception.
Held in Rome in 2000, the first-ever WorldPride was marred by religious uproar from The Vatican as Pope John Paul II denounced the event as an offence to the city’s Christian values. Pride-goers attending the festival’s second iteration in Jerusalem in 2006 faced vicious religious backlash as threats of intense violence coupled with the government’s inability to provide proper protection, led to the cancellation of the Gay Pride March that was scheduled to take place through the city’s streets.
Most recently, London’s WorldPride in 2012, suffered from financial issues that threatened to derail the entire festival less than two weeks before it was scheduled to take place, which led to heavily scaled-back celebrations.
David Claphan and Paul Ward came from England to participate in Toronto’s WorldPride and were preparing to watch Sunday’s parade from a friend’s balcony. Both men had attended London’s WorldPride festival and described it as a “complete and utter letdown” saying that Toronto’s rendition of the festival is “just totally different” from the one they experienced in their home country.
“[WorldPride] London was beset by a committee that wasn’t big enough and experienced enough to host such a mega event,” said Peter Tatchell, a British LGBT activist who has been campaigning for equal rights for 47 years. “To have a successful LGBT Pride event you need 100 per cent commitment from LGBT community organizations, the city and state governments, LGBT businesses and the police.”
Since its first official celebration in 1980, Toronto has become home to one of the largest Pride events in North America.