It was a day unlike any other, where same-sex couples walked hand in hand without fear of ridicule and police marched with other gay rights activists, as thousands lined the streets of Toronto to watch the 30th annual Pride Toronto festivities.
By 11 a.m., a middle aged woman had already staked out a spot behind the metal barriers at Yonge and Wellesley for herself and three friends even though the Parade was still three hours away. Leaning back in a folding chair, she rested her feet on the barrier and fixed her hair as the burning sunshine pressed down on her suntanned face.
Wellesley Street was closed to traffic between Yonge and Church, replaced with vendors selling everything from Tupperware to Pride memorabilia.
An array of t-shirts hung on a clothesline under the Pride Toronto official merchandise tent. One said, “It’s In To Be Out.”
Not so thirty years ago.
After Toronto police raided bathhouses in February and arrested 306 men, gay activists formed the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee. In June, 1,500 people celebrated Pride Day at Grange Park. There was no parade. No hordes of spectators. No mayors or police either.
But this year, five dollars bought you a temporary tattoo. Eight dollars for a large one. A young woman stood patiently as an artist painted a rainbow flag across her belly.
If tattoos weren’t your thing, you could always wrap yourself up in a Tibetan silk wrapped skirt and dress or purchase a Paulo Akiiki original oil painting and then sit back and relax with a glass of Calypso lemonade and a pulled pork sandwich or a Southern style veggie wrap.
On Wellesley, Pride partygoers took turns posing with armour clad Trojan models, bare-chested males with washboard abs and movie star good looks, as friends and family quickly snapped photos.
Pride flags curtained shop windows, draped balconies and decorated patios. Children waved their tiny flags while adults wrapped themselves up in the rainbow colours. A giant banner hung down the front of the 519 Community Centre.
At Church Street Public School, Family Pride was humming with activity: LGBTQ Parenting Connection picnic, hula hooping, arts and crafts and face painting.
Several hundred churchgoers, including Pride volunteers, politicians and police officers, held hands and rocked side to side throughout the singing of “Reach out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” during the Metropolitan Community Church service at the Bud Light South Stage at Church and Wood Street.
“Help support Pride Toronto,” called out one volunteer through a megaphone, further north on Church Street. “A toonie will get you either a sticker or a button.”
Just after 2 p.m., the first floats started making their way from the Rosedale Valley Road up Park Road to Church Street where they would eventually meet with marchers at Bloor Street, the official staring point of the Pride Parade.
Blowing their whistles, the crowd clapped their hands and cheered as the various groups passed in front of them. Music blared out of the jumbo speakers mounted on glittering floats, where scantily attired men and women danced rhythmically while others, dressed more sufficiently, sat and waved to the crowd.
Spectators and parade participants took turns trying to drench each other with their super-sized water guns, a move most considered a welcome relief from the intense afternoon heat.