Yes, there there were less clothes on Church Street than a normal Saturday but that's not what Church Street is all about.
On Saturday the Pride Toronto annual street fair was held in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. The street is blocked off for hundreds of thousands of visitors to experience Pride. With food, entertainment, products and information booths there is something for everyone. There are also areas for families, children, youth and those who prefer to remain clean and sober.
This year's theme is Celebrate & Demonstrate. The demonstrate refers to those in the world where being part of the LGBT community can be a death sentence. In Canada anyone of age can marry the partner of their own choosing. Crossing the border into the United States that option, to commit to another for a lifetime is not always available. Only a few states allow same-sex marriage. In fact the United States and Russia have about the same amount of rights offered to their LGBT community. In some areas of the world being gay can mean life and death. Almost all of Africa will put a person in prison simply because they are gay. This holds through in countries in the Middle East as well.
During the 1800s the Underground Railroad helped Blacks escape slavery in the Southern United States. Today there is another Underground Railway, the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees founded in 2008 in Toronto. This railroad helps queers in Iran where they can face corporal punishment escape. While 50 percent of the 570 refugees have been resettled in Canada, the United States and Europe half are still in limbo with the threat of having to return to Iran hanging over their heads.
Many of the information booths address the issues that the queer community faces in other parts of the world and in our city as well.
PFLAG is one of those booths. PFLAG is an ally group for the parents, families and friends of the LGBT community. The group holds weekly meetings throughout Canada for both the families of those who have come out of the closet and for members of the queer community making that leap to be out in the community. Having this support is invaluable to many. One man at the PFLAG booth talked about leaving the closet at the age of 60. He still talks in terms of shame for being gay although he is now very vocal as a member of the clergy. There is a sadness in his eyes when he talks about living a lie for six decades. His story is too common in the queer community even as the barriers are being broken down.
One group that is rarely mentioned when it comes to Pride is the families. The LGBT community includes a lot of children with their parents in same-sex marriages. While it's become more common in bigger cities like Toronto for kids to have two moms or two dads there are areas where children are dealing with society's perception that the term parent means a mom and a dad. At the Church Street Junior Public School this weekend there is a kid-friendly zone that is geared for families. Kids are able to enjoy the celebrations of Pride on their own level and have a lot of fun. From music, art and a huge sandbox families have a fun space that is just for them.
Pride is also for youth. The Fruit Loopz area is sponsored by SOY. The Fruit Loopz Youth Stage at Pride is event independently curated by LGBTQ youth.
Pride Toronto's celebration is for everyone to enjoy. It's also a time to reflect on what still needs to be done so that everyone across the globe has the right to be who they are; straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual. Until the world doesn't care about the sexual orientation of another there will be a need to raise the Rainbow Flag and awareness. When we as a global nation do get to that point Pride Week will still live on but it will be a celebration of love instead of a celebration to raise awareness.