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Ronei Fernandes became a Canadian this year -- and so it was only fitting that he declared his allegiance to both his country and his sexuality yesterday by appearing in a feathered and sequined gown that converted him into a sort of male Miss Canada.

"It is amazing," said Mr. Fernandes, one of an estimated 750,000 people who jammed downtown Toronto for the annual Pride Parade, a once-radical event that has become a Canadian institution.

Mr. Fernandes, who arrived from Brazil several years ago, said Canada has left behind its staid image to join the ranks of the great world capitals of partying and sexual freedom: "I feel like I am back in Brazil," he said.

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Although Toronto once had a reputation as a dry, grim bastion of Presbyterian reserve that earned it the tag line Toronto the Good, the Pride Parade has helped establish its new international brand: Toronto the Different.

The city's Pride Parade is now one of the largest in the world, along with Sydney's and New York's. Last year, nearly 800,000 peopled attended the Toronto event.

The parade's ascension to mainstream status reflects society's growing acceptance of gays and lesbians. Fifteen years ago, appearing at the parade would have been electoral suicide for any politician. Today, attending the parade is considered a key photo opportunity.

Among the politicians on hand yesterday were federal Health Minister Allan Rock and Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman, who seemed to be hoping that an appearance in one of the great exercises in liberal tolerance might undo some of the damage he inflicted on himself last week by making a cannibal joke on the eve of a trip to Africa.

Also attending yesterday were members of the Toronto Olympic Bid committee.

For gays and lesbians, the annual parade serves as both a public declaration of their growing acceptance, and as an opportunity for pure, ribald fun.

Mr. Fernandes had spent the past weeks working on the elaborate costume that managed to make him stand out in a vast and colourful crowd. His costume included red and white sequins and peacock and ostrich feathers. He revelled in the attention as he made his way along the parade route, his makeup running in the heat.

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More than 150 floats and groups associated with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual community took part in yesterday's parade. Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the downtown streets, rooftops and window sills to watch the spectacle.

Amanda Taylor took the opportunity to dress up and have fun. Ms. Taylor, a 21-year-old student at Toronto's Randolf Academy for the Performing Arts, spent almost an entire day making her costume for the parade: a pink faux-satin dress with an oversized straw hat adorned with a bouquet.

"It's just so fun," she said. "This is the only place you can wear whatever you want."

Rae, who didn't want his last name used, appeared in black leather, chains and studs. He said he had driven two hours from London, Ont., to be in the parade.

"I like the freedom and the spirit on the street," he said.

Linda Luciow came to the parade with her two-year-old granddaughter, and her son and her daughter, who are both gay.

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"It's a chance to meet friends and say 'Hi' to old friends," Ms. Luciow said. She came out of the closet when she was 18 years old, after having her children. She said her granddaughter is being raised to believe that above all "love is love" whether it is between a man and a women or two people of the same sex.

The only opposition to the festivities seemed to come from a man who stood at the corner of Yonge and Dundas streets holding a large yellow banner that invoked the name of Jesus and urged people to stop sinning and repent.

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