I’m late in posting about Pride Toronto. But, you know, it’s never late to share a good thing, is it?
This year, 2016, Pride Toronto was mostly wonderful. I personally encountered nothing but good cheer. And the police did a tremendous job of keeping us all safe.
Pride Toronto is no longer an exclusive “gay” affair. It’s grown so vast, so inclusive, and so much fun, folks of every age, gender, and sexual persuasion attend. Gays, straights; teens and grown-ups fill the downtown to overflowing. While Pride had its start in the gay liberation movement, by now, the event has evolved into a massive public Mardi Gras, where free expression reigns. All sexual persuasions mingle freely, and have a ball. It’s totally pagan!
While I photograph people during Pride Week, I really enjoy the last day. I tend to avoid the huge parade down Yonge Street, and focus on the smaller crowds that fill nearby Church Street. On Church, it’s far easier to move about, approach people, chat, and take pictures.
Decades back, Pride Toronto was a political celebration focused primarily on promoting gay rights. But now, “gay pride” has been superseded by broader societal forces. Sex, once viewed as a “sacrament” reserved for marriage and procreation is seen more by a younger generation as a biological fact. Sex is just one of humanity’s normal appetites. And as people in general become less repressed about sex, and less fearful of it, gay sex seems a natural part of humankind’s wider sexual spectrum.
Gay liberation is a by-product of urbanization. When gays began moving into cities in numbers, they had to create places where they could find each other. In Toronto, gays congregated in the downtown area, and throughout the 1990s, a visible gay village emerged on Church Street, full of shops, restaurants, bathhouses and bars. This density of gays gave rise to a community with political clout, one that could push for protection under the law. But in recent history, something of even greater significance has unfolded. The Internet has increasingly diminished the role of “location” and now, gays can get in touch anytime, anywhere, no matter where they live. New technologies such as iPhones, online websites and apps like Grindr, make it easy for gays to locate each other, match up interests, and make contact directly. Today, in Toronto, gays live all over the city and work in every profession, openly. This new freedom and mobility has faded the need of living in a protective “ghetto”.
But the great success of Pride has led it directly into precarious waters. Years back, Pride started as a small festival to promote specifically gay causes. At present, Pride has grown so large, attracting thousands of tourists and millions of dollars, it has become an essential component of Toronto’s tourism industry. Tourists, however, come for a good time, not to find themselves entering a political firestorm. And because Pride attracts extraordinary coverage, in every media, this means any group can grab enormous attention simply by showing up and sharing kinship with the “gay oppression” of the past. All persecuted groups should show solidarity, right?
So what goes up may well come down. The festival that began as a political movement may eventually sink in its own political legacy. Hopefully, those who organize and manage Pride can find solutions to what is clearly one of Toronto’s most high profile events.
Perhaps, as the larger society grows more comfortable with sex in general, human intimacy and sexual fantasy are things we can all celebrate and share.
Photos by Burke Campbell