Canadian Pride festivals are marching on despite bans on mass gatherings that have forced the cancellation of annual parades. Instead, Pride organizations are finding new ways to connect, from streaming live concerts and hosting virtual talent shows to encouraging people to hang rainbow flags in their windows.
In Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Halifax and elsewhere, Pride groups have been forced to cancel parades, festivals, concerts and all other in-person events as prohibitions on mass gatherings are expected to last until at least the summer.
While Pride festivals usually have a number of events and some groups hold activities throughout the year, the parades are often the central attraction, drawing huge crowds. The parades are considered as a form of protest against inequity as well as a celebration of queer culture.
The loss of their marquee events has also left Pride organizations with a potential financial hole.
Calgary Pride was the latest group to announce alternative programming to make up for the cancelled festivities this year. Calgary’s weeklong festival, which would have celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, was to start on Aug. 28.
On Wednesday, the organization said it would stage live concerts, workshops, interviews and community newscasts that would be broadcast online.
“Artists are deeply impacted right now, so we want to create opportunities for them,” said Calgary Pride’s executive director, Parker Chapple. “As well as interviews and workshops and community newscasts, it’ll be accessible free to the public.”
Parker Chapple said the organization hopes to create opportunities for the public to engage with both Calgary Pride and each other. The group will offer free diversity and inclusion training.
Vancouver Pride has decided to take its events entirely digital. The sunset beach show, for example, will become an online variety talent show.
Vancouver Pride Society executive director Andrea Arnot said that the change in format allowed the organization to re-examine how to meet the needs of the community by using methods that not have been considered before.
One of the new offerings is a produced, edited and narrated history of the queer community in Vancouver. The event was conceived of after hearing Pride attendees express a desire for more opportunities to learn about queer history, accompanied by a virtual roundtable with elder community members.
Halifax Pride has decided not to cancel or postpone its festival, but to find new ways for people to gather instead of parades or crowds.
“We’re trying to identify activities that can take place virtually but can transition to the real world,” executive director Adam Reid said.
In addition to virtual programming, the festival is also working on initiatives such as “Pride at home,” in which people display Pride flags in their windows.
Montreal Pride, which will be online this year, is also trying to find alternatives, said program director Jean-François Guevremont. “We want everyone to have access to what we’re trying to organize."
The cancellation of marquee events has hit organizations’ finances through loss of sponsors, grants and event revenue. That, in turn, has hurt their ability to hire and retain staff.
Pride celebrations can also bring significant a economic boost to local economies. In 2019, Pride Toronto estimated its events attracted 1.7 million people, who contributed $374-million to Ontario’s GDP. The annual parade is the cornerstone event.
Amber Moyle, Toronto Pride’s director of sponsorship and strategy, said some of the organization’s financial partners became unable to support it because of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Ms. Moyle said the festival would be continuing despite the cancellation of all the in-person events.
“Pride can’t be cancelled,” Ms. Moyle said. “No matter what. So we will be celebrating with our community.”
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