The Green Space Festival is an extremely popular outdoor celebration which has grown in size and numbers over the course of a decade. Beginning in Barbara Hall Park (adjacent to the 519 Community Center ) in the heart of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community, the Green Space Festival produces a gathering for queer people and allies in celebration of our human rights and places in society.

The Green Space Festival has formalized an already long-standing tradition of beer garden gatherings into an organized four-day menagerie of love, light, and dancing. Early photos of the 519 community centre during the gay rights movement show Pride banners flying from the building like fluttering symbols of LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms. It’s important to remember, Pride wasn’t always a happy-go-lucky walk – or tea dance – in the park.

“There have been gatherings at the 519 post-Pride March since 1976 when the building opened,” says Stacy Kelly, 519 Community Centre‘s Director of Philanthropy, “and tonight is the kick-off! (speaking on their early fundraising event). We’re getting people excited for the upcoming Pride season in Toronto, I mean, we’ve literally called tonight’s event ‘Just A Taste’ because we’re literally giving everybody a sense of the calibre of all the acts, performances, music and production value to come in June.”  

The Green Space Festival’s official website describes the four-day party for a cause as, “a thriving, internationally recognized cultural festival in Toronto comprised of a series of signature events – including Starry Night, One World, Lipstick Jungle, Disco Disco and TreeHouse Party – the Green Space Festival offers high calibre productions that feature national and international artists, providing amazing outdoor shows in gorgeous tree-lined venues packed over four days.”

“We, of course, will be more opulent for the festival in the park,” Stacy assures, as if the glorious ballroom at the 519 isn’t dolled up to standards already, “but [the festival] is our number one fundraiser and the money comes in to support the 519 as a whole. It helps fund all the programs and services that we are directly on the ground for, you know, what we do on a day-to-day basis in and for this community. If you think of the tens of thousands of people that come into The 519 every year, it just wouldn’t be possible without fundraising.”

Headlining the Green Space’s tenth-anniversary peepshow was one of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Ten contenders, Aquaria, who has made a splash on the drag scene in New York City, and (currently) on international television. Opening for Aquaria is Toronto’s explosive Tynomi Banks with Miss Jada ‘Shada’ Hudson, featuring powerhouse choreography by Scott Fordham and music by DJ Jeremy Khamkeo. If this is just a sneak peek of what’s to come in June for Pride, Toronto is in for a high-energy spectacle! Both Tynomi and Jada (along with their talented dancers) had the crowd cheering and singing every time they graced the stage. Lucky for us, both queens (as well as the sleek choreographed stylings of Mr. Fordham) are slated to return to #GreenSpace stage during Pride.

Before all of the hoopla that transpired in the ballroom at the 519, I met with Aquaria for a brief yet charming interaction. Wearing a familiar all-black ensemble and channelling a chic 80’s rock star/model, Aquaria is soft-spoken but dazzling, and her pop culture references and aesthetics are even more impressive up close.

Fans were lined up further than I could see (the meet and greet was about to begin) so I took a moment to give Aquaria a warm welcome to Toronto: “I know a lot of people are here tonight just for you and they’re rooting for you to win,” I said. Aquaria smiled, looked over her shoulder at the line up of fans, then back over to me. “I hope I win too!” she exclaimed. “Well, you did win the Snatch Game as Melania Trump,” I said,  “and it was hilarious!”
Aquaria laughed again, coyly. Perhaps relishing in the fact that Melania Trump was about to be her opening number. “I have to ask you,” I said, “if Melania Trump reached out saying she liked your impression of her, what would your reply be?” 
“You think so?!” Aquaria replied, “I honestly don’t know, I’m just glad I got through it!”
Our interaction was over, but the show was about to start! Along with Tynomi Banks and Jada Hudson, the “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent of “Just A Taste” at the 519 was through the roof!

“I love the poetry of Green Space because of its beautiful form of engagement,” Stacy Kelly finishes.”We’re embedded together in community, celebration and solidarity. We’re dancing and having a good time, and by doing that, by gathering with those that we love – our lovers, husbands, wives, etc – we are exercising a freedom that maybe we take for granted in this country. These rights are being attacked on a global scale, even within our own province, so as the new Director here, it’s really important for me to help tell this story. Maybe we want to start emphasizing a small ‘p’ for party and a capital ‘C’ for Cause.”

For Green Space Festival tickets and event details, click here.

[Photographs courtesy of David J. Romero for Green Space]

About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.