With a festival as large and as politically charged as Pride Toronto, there’s always going to changes happening, which undoubtedly will lead to disenchantment from some community members, and applause from others. Pride means something different to everyone, and for many it’s a very personal and passionate experience. While many see the festival as losing sight of its political roots, others see it as one of the most progressive events our city has, showing great growth from those initial protests and marches that paved the way to where we are today.

That being said, each year Pride Toronto aims to expand their offering to attendees by implementing new initiatives. This year, there are several new programs being launched, one of which was ‘Til Sunrise this past weekend on the Toronto Islands. With temps scorching in the city, it was the perfect place to begin this final week of festivities leading up to the big weekend. Although this was a ticketed event, it was very well attended, and may have even caught Pride staffers by surprise, as they were seen scurrying around trying to keep the bar supplies topped up and flowing. All in all, it seemed to go off quite successfully.

Drinks to Go is now Drink & Carry

It should be noted that this program has been implemented in partnership with the Church Street BIA, who have also been instrumental in spearheading the guidelines and regulations. The Drink & Carry area stretches from Isabella  to Carlton, along Church Street, and along Wellesley from Yonge to Mutual will also be included. Pride Toronto has partnered with 22 Church St. businesses on this program, who opted in to be part of this pilot project. They will now be able to sell alcohol to patrons who want to take their drinks outside the bar, and continue to explore the Drink & Carry area. Partnering establishments will receive signage to mark them as Drink & Carry partners.

Tyler Oliveira, from Church Street Garage, commented, “To be honest we did it because it seemed like a good idea and profitable it’s the first time for something like this to happen so it really is going to be hit or miss and you can’t really assume an outcome for it being the first time. we just hope it won’t be chaotic and making sure everyone is safe.”

This program has been met with some controversy from within the community (the 1%), who may not be aware of all the discussions and planning that had to take place beforehand. First, this whole program is an optional buy-in that anyone can choose to purchase, or not. While Church Street will become one large enclosed drinking area, anyone is able to pass around or through the enclosed licensed area without purchasing a wristband. No stages will be wristband access only, the wristband is only to indicate who is of drinking age and thereby able to purchase alcohol. Security checks will be done as per usual in previous years, upon entrance to any licensed area.

As for the reasoning for introducing this, Pride Toronto Executive Director, Olivia Nuamah, advised, “We lost four beer garden stage locations this year, due to construction and development in the community. This was a way for us to recover some of that lost revenue.” As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work and resources for a non-profit organization to put on an event of this scale, and financing is a huge component. Nuama also advised, “We have also been advised we’ll be losing two more of our biggest stages, Wellesley and Central, in the next two years.”

It appears this Drink & Carry format may soon be the “new norm”, not only for Pride but for many other large scale street festivals in the city. So once again, the queer community leads the way to creating a safe environment for pedestrians to take back the streets, whether that be for political purpose or bang on partying.

Below is what was communicated via Facebook in response to concerns from community members…

This year we have a program in place that allows you to walk throughout a portion of our footprint with your beverages purchased from participating vendors. Only if you choose to participate in the program will your ID be checked, as it would be if you were purchasing alcohol from any vendor. Bags will be searched by private security who will be looking for illegal substances, with guidance from our volunteers trained in harm reduction.

If you don’t want to participate in the program and just take in the festival, no ID or bag check will be necessary. You are welcomed to walk in and roam freely without being ID’d or checked. We have hired security to support the implementation of this program, with the goal of keeping everyone safe and protecting the property of those surrounding the festival footprint. The fees to participate in the program are $10 per day or $25 for the weekend, plus applicable taxes. The costs associated are to help cover the infrastructure of the program and will only be charged to those wanting to participate.

As you walk along our regular festival footprint, you will notice that our traditional spaces have changed and have been replaced with condos. In order for us to support the growth of the festival and its’ needs, we are piloting this premier program and we look forward to hearing about your experience.

More details can be found on the Drink & Carry Facebook Page

The Black March is now the Until We’re Safe campaign, which includes a minute of silence and a march in solidarity at the end of the parade, where individuals are encouraged to wear black for those in the community lost to senseless violence and illness. Until We’re Safe is a week-long community engagement campaign, led by 15 LGBT organizations, which will run across various social media platforms, that shares the stories of 24 members of the LGBT community. A list of participating organizations can be found here, and the official press release here.

Commemorating 35 Years of AIDS Activism – The LGBTQ+ community’s fierce commitment to AIDS activism over the past 35 years has led to massive strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Pride Toronto presents a full range of programming for 35 years of AIDS Activism. A full guide of all events can be found here.

Finally, this year there are more stages than ever in place, packed full of entertainment that can’t be found at any other festival in Toronto, and best of all the majority of this programming is free to attend, with the exception of a few partner events that have an entrance fee.

Pride Toronto remains an event that celebrates queer life and accomplishments. It takes a dedicated team of individuals who work throughout the year, along with thousands of wonderful volunteers over festival weekend, to make this happen. While many in the community feel deeply passionate and vocal about certain aspects that they may not be in agreement with, it should be noted that the organization is open to receive feedback at any point throughout the year, and they regularly hold community town hall meetings that are open to anyone to attend as well. There’s also opportunity for anyone to apply to become a Board member, and have their say in how the festival operates.

Yes, there’s always more that can be achieved, and no the fight is far from over, but for this one weekend of the year it’s an opportunity to showcase how proud the LGBTQ community is as to where we are at today. So while we still need those to continue to be the voice of change for the future, we also must allow those who seek the freedom to be who they are, and take in all the wonderful diverse programming that is being provided for the most part – free of charge.

Check out the full Pride Guide, highlight your top picks, and celebrate the way you want to, alongside thousands of others doing the same. We are all unique individuals, which is what Pride aims to celebrate.

Pride Toronto Weekend happens throughout the city between Friday June 23, 2018 and Sunday June 25, 2018.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.