World Pride Looks to Toronto to Rebound in 2014
World Pride - conceived a dozen years ago by its non-profit parent InterPride - promotes LGBT issues internationally through parades and other cultural activities. But almost since inception, WorldPride has been hampered by political and financial turmoil. The global cities that have hosted it - Rome, Jerusalem and London - have all struggled or been hobbled by discord. The celebration planned for2014 in Toronto may yet be World Pride's ultimate proving ground.
When the inaugural World Pride debuted in Rome in 2000, wrath from the Vatican quickly followed. Pope John Paul II declared that World Pride was an "offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Catholics across the world." Rome's left-leaning mayor, who had promised a supportive cash outlay of $200,000, rescinded his offer. Despite setbacks, organizers rallied a quarter of a million attendees who marched en mass on Circus Maximus.
Next came another Holy City: Jerusalem, in 2006. But that year the Israeli-Lebanon conflict erupted. The Israeli government cancelled the march, claiming there weren't enough soldiers to protect all the celebrants.
London hosted World Pride in 2012, but the pattern of dashed hopes persisted. A newspaper account in the London Evening Standard on July 26 that year might send any event organizer into apoplectic shock:
"London's gay pride celebration is under threat following a cash dispute between the organizers and contractors staging the event," the Standard reported. "Sources close to Pride London, which usually attracts about a million people, said today that organizers have just 24 hours to save it after contractors threatened to walk out over unpaid bills." When discord triumphed over accord, World Pride organizers in London were forced to scale back or cancel events. A scheduled World Pride rally at Trafalgar Square, according to one observer, canceled at the last minute, resembled "a ghost town."
"Many less-than-ideal issues arose during the planning process for World Pride 2012 in London," said Brett Hayhoe, InterPride secretary and World Pride co-chairman. "It is important, however, for InterPride (as the license holder) to learn from these and move on." Hayhoe is looking for Toronto to deliver next year.
"I am completely confident in the abilities of Pride Toronto to produce a truly world class event for 2014 and am working closely with the organization to ensure that they receive all the support they require from InterPride to do so," World Pride's Hayhoe said.
But given World Pride's accumulated woes, can Toronto succeed where other cities have failed?
Toronto: Successful Pride History
Toronto hosts the largest Pride event in North America each summer. An estimated 1.22 million people congregate for Pride Week, according to Pride Toronto, the event’s non-profit sponsor. There are Dyke and Trans marches, public lots cheerfully transformed into al fresco (and freewheeling) dance halls, rainbow balloons and flags everywhere, and free outdoor concerts. Known also for an emphasis on including families and young adults - it began as family Gay Day picnics in Toronto’s parks in 1971 -- Pride Week culminates with a raucous parade that snakes down Yonge Street, Toronto’s main artery, each year.
Officials interviewed for this report are bullish about World Pride for 2014 and marrying it to their already burgeoning yearly event.
"We expect to double the number of people coming to Toronto for World Pride 2014," said Ronald Holgerson, president and CEO of Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Cooperation, a co-sponsor the event. "Canada wants to send the message that LGBT people from all around the world are welcome. Canada is proud to be at the forefront of promoting global human rights."
Yet Toronto has also wrestled with controversies. In June 2010, in advance of Pride Week, the streets of downtown Toronto erupted in violent protests and riots. Angry protesters hurling rocks clashed with police during a planned summit of world leaders of the G-20. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds. According to the Associated Press, over 1,000 people were arrested, the largest number in Canada’s history. Law suits decrying police brutality were tied up in courts for over a year following the fracas. Toronto, a city known for diversity and tolerance, had never experienced mayhem on such a large scale before.
In 2011, discord flared up again when City of Toronto - whose mayor, Rob Ford, steadfastly refuses to attend or endorse Pride events and who has recently struggled with reports from The Toronto Star that he smoked crack cocaine - withheld funds from Pride Toronto over a dispute with Queers against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA), who opposed Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian neighbors and insisted on marching despite being denied a permit. This tempest was responsible for the ouster of Pride Toronto’s executive director Traci Sandilands. And a concurrent funding issue that year from the province left the Pride Toronto staff scrambling to come up with a shortfall of $350,000.
Financial and political unrest: two factors that derailed World Prides in other global cities. Will Toronto avoid these snafus before World Pride dawns in 2014?
Next page for how Toronto plans to tackle World Pride 2014
Planning for 2014
Kevin Beaulieu, Pride Toronto’s executive director, maintains Toronto is up for the challenge.
"Pride events have always been local in nature," Beaulieu said. "By joining forces with World Pride, we have the opportunity to elevate Pride to a focus on global human rights issues. We’re planning a Human Rights Conference in concert with the Bonham Centre at the University of Toronto that is expected to bring 150 speakers from around the world to engage visitors and residents alike in a dialogue about LGBT issues."
Chrystal Dean, an Australian native who spent two years as vice president of TasPride, in Tasmania, is the newly hired World Pride manager at Pride Toronto.
"My job is to focus solely on this event, and to bring people together in partnerships," Dean said. "Our theme, Partner with Your Pride, has already begun strengthening existing partnerships and has opened up communications with new partners. We are not just focusing on Pride in downtown Toronto, but in each of its 13 municipalities. So far, it’s coming together in a big way."
One of Pride’s stalwart partners is Tourism Toronto. Christopher Barry, special projects and business development director at Tourism Toronto, traveled in 2012 with Ontario Tourism’s Ronald Holgerson to World Pride in London.
"We wanted to learn how to better execute an event for Toronto," Barry said of his trip to U.K. last year. "What we witnessed in London was the breakdown of communications. Permits were not in place, for example, and connections between groups crumbled. The take-away from London, for us, was the necessity of firming up all our events, building new relationships, to strengthening existing ones. Since our return to Toronto, we’ve secured funding and spread messages out there through the business community and grass roots groups that we are all working together. We started this process early to stay ahead of the game."
Fundraising began in earnest in 2012. The local business community is partnering with Pride Toronto, said David Stempowski, who works in sales for the Eaton Chelsea Hotel on Yonge Street.
"It’s always a thrill for us to partner with Pride Toronto," Stempowski said. "The Eaton Chelsea Hotel is right on the parade route, so we’re in the midst of it all. During the year we huddle with other businesses, lend personal and financial support, and plan events. The hotel - and others in the area -- has special rates during Pride Week, and we’re always at peak capacity."
Despite longstanding snubs from Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford, the city radiates enthusiasm about Pride. Large billboards depicting same-sex couples financing their condos with loans from TD Bank can be seen downtown. Elsewhere, volunteer groups, who serve as marshals along the parade route, meet regularly to discuss crowd control.
"We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work," said Debra Mansillo, special projects manager for Ontario Tourism. "Toronto plays host to the third largest Pride in the world. And each year we grow larger. Plus, it’s really an exciting time globally. There is a tide of change happening in the world - more acceptances of LGBT groups than ever before. We expect to reflect that in World Pride in 2014, and to pass that along to all who come to fully embrace that spirit here in Toronto."
Mansillo and Christopher Barry traveled to Brazil in May to attend what is reported to be the largest global Pride event: an estimated 4 million celebrants take to the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s capital. Their mission: to learn how the Brazilians accommodate this massive crowd peacefully, and to extend a welcome to Brazilians to travel to Toronto to participate in World Pride 2014.
While all eyes will be on Toronto next year, perhaps the most intense gaze may be from the visitors from Spain: Madrid is up next to host World Pride in 2017.