Toronto Pride festival at the heart of Canada’s gay rights movement

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew

A somewhat surprising piece of history will be made this weekend at Toronto's annual Pride Parade, the cherry on top of a weeklong festival celebrating gay rights and equality.

Kathleen Wynne, Ontario's openly gay premier, will march in the downtown parade. That's nothing new; she and her wife Jane Rounthwaite do it every year.

This year, however, will be different. She'll be doing it as the leader of the province, and she will be the first sitting premier to march in the history of the parade

"Well it's part of summer you know," Wynne recently told the Canadian Press.

"Every year I take part in the Pride events. Jane and I go to the Pride and Remembrance run on Saturday morning. I go to the church service, which is always very, very moving, on Sunday morning, and of course I walk in the parade."

It seems so simple, just another stroll. It almost makes you wonder how no other premier has ever managed to make the trek.

Former premier Dalton McGuinty participated in Pride festivities, but never marched in the parade. Former Toronto mayors have almost always marched, which led to criticism when current Mayor Rob Ford made a habit of skipping the week entirely.

This year, Ford participated in his first Pride Week event as sitting mayor. He watched the honourary flag rise outside City Hall. He still won't march (due to prior family commitments, he says), but he has now participated.

Things are different now.

[ Pulse of Canada: Have attitudes toward homosexuality changed? ]

Ontario is more inclusive than ever. So is the rest of Canada. Hell, even the U.S. is making flag-waving headlines thanks to the Supreme Court's recent rejection of the Defence of Marriage Act — considered a massive win for same-sex marriage equality.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg pointed to Canada's evolution as what to expect from the U.S. in coming years.

Author Christopher Flavelle wrote:

It's hard to disentangle the effect of legalizing same-sex marriage from broader cultural shifts that were already underway. But it seems that changing the law's treatment of the issue accelerated the evolution of Canadians' views.

According to the Environics Institute, only one-third of Canadians approved of same-sex marriage in 2001. Last year, approval was at 57 per cent. A poll also found that 67 per cent of Canadians believed homosexuals should be allowed to run for public office.

[ More Brew: Happy Canada Day, Manitoba! Your taxes are going up ]

In terms of equality, the numbers are going in the right direction. But we’re not there yet.

"Unfortunately we still need a Pride celebration because homophobia is alive and well, not just here in some places in Ontario, but in many parts of the world where you can still be imprisoned or beaten for being gay, lesbian or trans," Wynne said recently.

It has been 10 years since Canada legalized same-sex marriage. We consider ourselves more evolved on the issue of sexual equality. We've had openly gay mayors, an openly gay premier. Global research puts us among the world’s most accepting nations. We hold internationally-lauded celebrations like Pride Toronto.

Toronto's Pride Festival is considered one of the largest in the world. It draws tourists from across the country, well into the U.S. and abroad. More than one million people attend the finale parade on Sunday every year.

Canada’s largest city is so well-perceived on the topic of gay rights that it has been asked to host the World Pride Festival in 2014. It is a recognition that cannot be celebrated enough.

This year, our premier proudly participates in the Pride march. Maybe next summer, the city’s mayor and Canada’s prime minister will join her.