ABOVE: We talk with two of the performers at the upcoming WorldPride week: Mia Martina and Miss Conception
Toronto is welcoming the fourth – and what organizers hope will be the largest-ever – WorldPride.
The global arts and cultural festival celebrates the rights of the LGBTQ community around the world. And although many anxiously awaited its official arrival Friday, the event hasn’t always been so well received.
Pride Toronto’s executive director Kevin Beaulieu says WorldPride has travelled to some hostile places in the past.
“Every city is different and every local pride community responds differently,” he says.
Since its start in 2000, WorldPride has hosted events in Rome, Jerusalem and London.
READ MORE: Full WorldPride coverage
Alan Reiff, co-chair for the WorldPride committee at InterPride, says he didn’t originally anticipate WorldPride would take off as it did.
“When it first started, nobody envisioned there would be an ongoing thing of WorldPride. No one thought it would happen on a regular basis,” he said.
“It grew out of an event called EuroPride. European pride organizers picked a city every year to focus on.”
In 2000, Rome hosted a millennium celebration and the Vatican voiced its lack of support for the gay community. (Or, as Reiff puts it diplomatically, “the Vatican wasn’t so inclusionary with the LGBT community.”)
LGBTQ activist group Mario Mieli decided Rome’s millennium party would be the perfect world stage for an LGBTQ event that would serve as a human rights protest.
“It was really a protest to ask for equal rights and it was amazing. Mario Mieli usually has 10,000 people at their pride event. I think they had 200,000 people that year,” Reiff said.
“We took over Rome because of that event. … People were more free with themselves. They were able to walk in the streets and hold hands. It completely changed the fabric [of] Rome. … It wasn’t smooth, but when it happened, things just kind of fell into place.”
The success of Rome’s WorldPride inspired InterPride to hold another event. Jerusalem was chosen to host the next global LGBTQ festival.
“It was taken over by Jerusalem Pride House and their whole focus was if the Palestinian LGBT community and the Jewish LGBT community and the Christian LGBT community… if they could all get along and work together, then why couldn’t everyone?” Reiff recalled.
“They were trying to present themselves as an example of how everyone could get along in a very volatile part of the world.”
But the region’s volatility got the best of the event that year: Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005 pushed the event back to November 2006.
“Everyone agreed that with the unrest, it might not be a good idea to bring in international people until we could make sure everybody had their safety.”
But when it finally took place, members of the LGBTQ community marched peacefully around the Holy city.
“They went to Jewish and Palestinian cities. It was very powerful,” noted Reiff.
London seemed a perfect stage, with large-scale events including the Queen’s Jubilee and the Summer Olympics happening close by.
But those competing marquee events caused headaches of their own.
“Some resources were spread thin in London with the other big events happening,” said Beaulieu.
Financial complications and poor planning caused WorldPride events to be scaled back significantly that year.
Two years later, Toronto takes the reins for WorldPride’s North American debut.
Reiff said the celebration is meant to emphasize, in part, “how wonderful Canada is to its LGBT community.”
The festival will feature a human rights conference and will welcome people from all over the world to participate in its discussions.
Beaulieu says the event will play an important part in boosting Toronto’s reputation.
“It’s still a young event. … [Toronto] has built a strong and successful LGBT community over generations. [WorldPride] is a chance for people to re-engage people on an international scale,” Beaulieu said.
Despite the ghosts of past year’s WorldPride events, Beaulieu said he feels Toronto is in great shape.
“We have 200 volunteers over the course of WorldPride and with advanced planning and support from the city, I think we are in a good place.”
WorldPride officially kicks off Friday with the opening ceremony at Nathan Phillips Square at 7 p.m.
© Shaw Media, 2014