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 Rome’s left-leaning mayor, who had promised a supportive cash outlay of $200,000, rescinded his offer.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