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Toronto's Gay Village buzzes over Pride weekend

A man holds up a banner as thousands of people on Yonge Street watch the annual Pride Parade in Toronto on Sunday, June 28, 2009.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

As crews worked to set up stages for Pride Toronto's weekend performances, the local gay pubs with shirtless bartenders started filling up early Friday afternoon.

Tourists had begun descending on Toronto's Gay Village at Church and Wellesley streets. Wearing the blue ponchos that festival organizers were handing out when it started to pour, they walked around trying to decide which bars to patronize and what events to attend this weekend.

Four women from Sarnia said they were excited to go to Enchanted, a women's dance night at the Palais Royale on Lake Shore Boulevard on Friday night.

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"It's a mature event for hundreds of women in an elegant setting," said Gayle Montgomery, 54. "Often times, in our community, that's hard to find."

"[LGBT events] are usually in a little hole in the wall," added Ms. Montgomery's wife, Nicole Montgomery, 42. "They're seedy and they cater to the guys."

Tickets were priced at $40 in advance and $50 at the door.

The women are also looking forward to concerts at the Nathan Phillips Square over the weekend.

Sitting inside Woody's bar on Church Street sheltered from the rain, waiter Tony Rocha, 58, enjoyed his day off Friday.

"I want to see the TreeHouse party," said Mr. Rocha. "I've heard it's the first time there will be a party at the Ryerson Quad."

The annual party has moved to Ryerson University's quad — a big expanse of grass in the middle of campus — this year. It used to be held at Cawthra Square in the village. XTRA, an LGBT newspaper, reported that the event had grown too large, and needed a bigger space to accommodate approximately 5,000 people - double the number of attendees in previous years.

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The TreeHouse party begins at 1 p.m. Sunday — an hour before the Pride Parade — and continues til midnight.

Saturday's Dyke March will start at the intersection of Bloor and Church streets at 2 p.m. The march usually begins with the roar of motorcyles by Dykes on Bikes. It doesn't appear that forecasted rain will dampen attendance.

"I will go to the Dyke march whether it rains or not," said Lorna Levac, 46. "I would just prefer to be in the sun."

While a lot of Pride parties are being planned throughout downtown Toronto, many people said that the weekend is not just about having fun. Mr. Rocha said he will take advantage of this weekend to brush up on his knowledge of why the Pride Parade exists, and how it was born out of the 1969 New York City Stonewall riots.

He gets "emotional" and feels "soulful" whenever he sees PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — marching in the parade.

"I would bake in the sun just to see that," said Mr. Rocha, who added that his own parents are not supportive of his gay lifestyle.

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Toronto's annual Pride Parade is the equivalent of New Year's Eve for many in the LGBT community. They skip meals or eat healthier to maintain, or obtain as the case may be, as trim a figure as possible.

"It is also a time to reflect on what we've done since last Pride," said Alex Urquhart, 23, a university student. "Who have we dated, are we in a relationship, we make resolutions, that sort of thing."

Enza Anderson, 49, an LGBT activist who ran for Toronto's mayoral office in 2000 and for city council in 2010, said the Pride festivities are not about the parties anymore, but watching people celebrate the growth of the LGBT movement.

"It's the time of year for some people to say, 'Let's get married,' for some people to say, 'I'm coming out,' for those who are trapped to let loose," said Ms. Anderson.

Although the struggle for LGBT rights worldwide is not yet over, Ms. Anderson said she is cheering the advancements that have been made in the last year. Chief among them are the passing of Toby's Act which amends the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender identity and gender expression. As well, the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to modify the federal Defence of Marriage Act so that same-sex couples cannot be denied federal benefits such as pensions and survivor benefits.

Ms. Anderson said she believes the American LGBT people will be here to celebrate their victory during Toronto's Pride festival.

"I'm sure of it. In a year's time, there will be more states adopting LGBT rights legislation," she said. "People will say, 'Look, let's use Toronto as an example.'"

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