The Pride Guide 2018: 5 easy tips for a fun, safe & respectful Pride in Toronto
I will never forget the very first time I attended a Pride Parade. It was in Toronto and I was 15 years old. I wasn’t out of the closet just yet – I had one foot in, one foot out – so I told my parents I was going to stay at a friends house. And I was going to stay at a friends house… eventually. The truth is, I wanted to attend Pride to meet new people. Nothing was wrong with the people I already knew, I just couldn’t relate to them, and I had never befriended another gay person before. I only ever saw flashes of taboo queer culture on television shows, like Queer As Folk or Will & Grace. I wanted to explore this technicolour assembly of parading queers for myself and I’m happy I did because it changed my life for the better.
Nearly two decades later, the Toronto Pride Parade (and the weeks leading up to it) have exploded into a week-long celebration, protest, and memorial service for every queer person in the city (and beyond). People come from all over the world to attend Toronto Pride – the largest Pride Parade in all of Canada. The parade started as a controversial protest against police brutality in Toronto bathhouses in 1981. Since then, the entire month of June has been internationally recognized as Pride Month, Gay Marriage has been made legal across Canada, and the Toronto Trans and Dyke Marches have grown to become largest in the world.
With such deep-rooted history, a plethora of events, and an endless guest list of attendees, how can one properly navigate a month-long love letter to everything queer in Toronto? It’s impossible to see and do everything so try not to let the FOMO get the best of you. The universal language of love, however you feel it, is embedded in the very fabric of our adorned rainbow flag, so this Pride, remain open-minded, open-hearted, and get ready for one hell of a festival!
Introducing the Pride Guide 2018: 5 easy tips for a fun, safe & respectful Pride in Toronto!
1) COME THROUGH, COME PREPARED
First up, how can anyone expect to have any fun if they don’t properly prepare themselves for the long days and nights that Pride packs together? Big events are held every day and night for a full week, so if you plan on spending the majority of Pride Week partying, you really don’t want to be dehydrated and/or sunburned the Monday morning after. A week-long thunderstorm rained on our parade in 2015, but Pride Month in Toronto is almost always sunny and sweltering. Wellesley and Church Streets are closed on the weekend leading up to the parade when Yonge Street from Bloor to Queen is closed as well. All the beer gardens and street stages will be open, and once the party starts, there isn’t anything (besides water and some sunscreen) that can protect you from exhaustion. So unless you’ve splurged on a spa day at the Shang-ri La or plan on taking a time-out on King Street West hooked up to a vitamin-wellness infusion, you’re going to want to take precautions.
Wear appropriate sunscreen! Sunburns are painful, not to mention harmful. As for hydration, you can keep a portable water bottle with you or grab a free glass with a meal at an eatery or bar. Outside water bottles are not allowed inside the beer gardens or venues, but you can buy water at two of the local convenience stores on the East side Church Street in between Maitland and Alexander Street and inside Wellesley Station. If you’re outside all day – walking around, dancing in the beer gardens and drinking, it will catch up to you by the time night falls. That’s when the party’s just getting starting, so it’s a good idea to pace yourself. As good as the EMS look in their uniforms, nobody actually wants to have to receive medical assistance. We’re fortunate to have emergency medical care on-scene should someone need assistance, and the EMS does a great job aiding those who need it in Toronto during Pride, but why risk it? Preventative precautions never hurt anyone – dehydration and sunburns do!
2) TIP YOUR QUEENS
This next tip literally deals with tipping. Pride is the busiest and most profitable time of year for the LGBTQ+ community, and tipping is a part of that cycle. However, the methods of tipping performers can differ depending on who you’re tipping and where. Performers consist of (but are not limited to) Drag Kings and Queens, dancers and singers, MC’s, party hosts, and DJ’s. Tipping your performers is always an appropriate gesture. They work tirelessly throughout the entire duration of Pride Month, so a little gratitude can go a very long way. If you have an extra five, ten, twenty or even fifty dollar bill in your pocket, and you like what you see and/or hear, feel free to let them know with a big tip! “Tip your Queens” is a commonly used term at Drag shows and it encompasses the importance of tipping, no matter the performer. Just remember that tipping a performer with loose change (unless there is a tip bucket) is never okay. It’s a known faux pas and someone will absolutely let you know about it should you try. Even if there is a tip bucket, stick to tipping loonies and toonies (one dollar and two dollar coins). If you’d like to tip but do not have any bills, avoid tipping with small change – nickels, dimes and quarters. Money is money but tipping performers with small change is bad etiquette, and it will (more than likely) come across as offensive.
Tipping is also traditional, but it doesn’t bestow anyone with control over a performer or their personal space. Timing and approach are everything when tipping, so harassing a DJ while they’re visibly trying to concentrate or attempting to leap on stage during a Drag performers’ dance number (without being invited) are big no-no’s. In some cases, it may even get you kicked out or even banned from the venue. Approach any and all performers you do not know (but want to tip) with humility. Hold your money out so it’s visible in your hand and make eye contact. Wait until the performer comes to you and they will most graciously accept your tip. And please don’t get upset if you weren’t able to get their attention. It’s possible you were simply overlooked because the performers are focused on their sets. You can always approach them after they’ve finished. It’s worth noting that this applies mostly to local performers in venues across Toronto. If performers are international, chances are they will have private security or will be on-stage and unreachable from the get-go. Just enjoy the show and be supportive with cheers.
Now, performers aren’t the only people worthy of your tips during Pride. If you decide to get some food at a restaurant or some drinks at a local bar, always be sure you tip your bartenders and servers. The workload in this industry during Pride is strenuous, to say the very least, so the bartenders, bussers, and servers that are working non-stop around the clock deserve gratuity. Plus, tipping is an essential part of the dining and service industry in Toronto. Even if you find your server or bartender to be flustered or overwhelmed, try to exercise empathy and tip them accordingly. They rely on tips so unless the experience was truly unpleasant, you’ll be shorting them if you don’t.
The venues these performers, bartenders and servers work in also deserve to be respected. Many bars, restaurants and clubs in the Toronto LGBTQ+ Village are owned and operated by members of the community. You are a guest. Vandalism or destruction of property is an extremely negative way of showing appreciation for queer hospitality during Pride. Enjoy the spaces to their full potential, but just remember these venues act like a home for chosen queer families every day of the year, not just Pride. Contribute to their legacies by visiting with class.
3) KNOW YOUR PRIDE, SHOW YOUR PRIDE
The LGBTQQIP2SAA community, or LGBTQ+, for short, is an umbrella term that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous, and asexual individuals. If you’re not familiar with the acronym or some of these communities, take some time to learn about them before coming to Pride. This event is more than a week-long party, it’s a celebration of queer existence. And most importantly, it’s a protest for basic human rights and freedoms. The LGBTQ+ community still faces hate and injustice within Canada and across the globe every single day of every single year; ignorance has no place at Pride.
People are honouring queer love and life this month, so if it’s your first time at Pride (or you’re not completely sure about your sexuality or gender) please do not gawk or stare at anyone that you deem different than you. Pride is about queer liberation and visibility, so if you’re cisgendered and you see someone who is androgynous or non-binary, trans or genderqueer, do not act in any way that would make them feel uncomfortable. See and hear them for who they are. If you’re bringing straight friends along to Pride this year, make sure they know this too. Trust me when I say intolerance will never be tolerated.
Pride has a long and complex global history. In Toronto, Pride started in 1981 after the Toronto Police Service carried out the now infamous bathhouse raids. Pride began as a protest, first and foremost, and since then, Pride in Toronto has become a festival for people of all walks of life to come together. Queer visibility, however it manifests, is an inadvertent protest against heteronormative and societal norms, homophobia, transphobia, racism and intolerance.
4) PRIDE PARADE HACKS
The Toronto Pride Parade is the largest in Canada and one of the largest Pride Parades in the world, so it’s expected to be hot and crowded all along Yonge Street during the parade. Getting from one side of the street to the other is nearly impossible, and claiming that perfect spectating spot can prove difficult or even dangerous. It’s best to have a plan of action if you’re not going reserve a spot before the parade starts. The massive crowds can get overwhelming, especially if you’ve never maneuvered your way through them before, so pick an area you’d like to see the parade from and take it from there.
Back to tip number one – come prepared. Bring water and wear sunscreen! The parade is long and usually very hot and sunny. You don’t want to miss out on all the action because you underestimated the Canadian summer sun and got sunstroke. Once you’ve filled up your water guns, bottles, and balloons, throw on a sling-bag (knapsacks are too big and bulky to carry in crowds) and head over to Yonge Street! The best (and only) way to cross from one side of Yonge Street to the other during the parade is underground via College and Dundas Stations. But brace yourself! A simple two minute walk underground from one side of Yonge Street to the other could take five or ten or even fifteen minutes in a slow-moving armada of rainbows and glitter.
If you’re just going to watch the parade at street-level like the majority of Pride-goers, the best and most open areas for a better view of the parade are at the beginning of the parade route along Bloor Street, along Yonge Street south of College Street, and at the very end of the parade’s route at Yonge and Dundas Square. The beginning and end of the parade allow for a much more open area with better visibility, plus Yonge and Dundas Square has a full performance roster on the main stage all day. If you’re watching the parade from a rooftop or balcony overlooking Yonge Street, you’ve got some VIP seats, but be mindful of the building’s edge if you’re atop a building, of course. And never try to trespass onto private property, including the many construction sites along Yonge Street. Police may not be marching in the parade but it’s their job to serve and protect the Pride parade and city in general. There’s a very heavy police presence at Pride and you could very easily get arrested or hurt for being reckless. Be smart and safe about it!
5) SOBER AND FAMILY PRIDE
Just like the many colours in our flag or letters in our acronym, everyone has their own way of celebrating. For many, Pride doesn’t include going to the beer gardens or dancing ‘til 7 AM; it consists of spending quality time with family, as a recognized and respected unit, or enjoying quality time with friends in a clean and sober atmosphere.
On Pride weekend, Pride Toronto presents “Clean, Sober + Proud! A dedicated drug + alcohol-free space for everyone to enjoy.” The 3-day festival features live entertainment, health and wellness practices and confidential recovery meetings in a family-friendly environment. Sober Pride is a critical and relevant part of Pride and takes place in the Paul Kane Parkette located on the north side of Wellesley Street on Pride Friday, June 23 from 7 PM to 12 AM, Pride Saturday, June 24 and Pride Sunday, June 25 from 10 AM to 11 PM. For more information visit: http://ow.ly/j5jD30cuf80
Family Pride is another great option for a clean, alcohol-free and family-friendly Pride event, and the festival celebrates 17 years at Toronto Pride this year! Self-described as “a majestic oasis located on the school ground at the Church Street Public School.” A brand new playground complete with a new soccer field and race track has bloomed in this previously dated schoolyard (insured with well-gated parameters). Family Pride is a celebration for community families to strengthen bonds and diversity through vibrant, creative, and engaging activities and programs. If you have any youngsters of your own, Family Pride is the perfect place to celebrate the future of LGBTQ+ parents, caregivers, and children. Offered programming is geared to children ages 0-12 (and their families) on June 24 & 25 from 10 AM to 5 PM. For more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1918050988443245/
No matter how you decide to celebrate Pride this year, remember it’s history, contribute to its legacy, and of course, have an amazingly gay ol’ time!
Happy Pride Toronto!
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.