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culture

With 18 Months to Go, the WorldPride Toronto Countdown Begins

Pride Toronto looks forward to hosting an international LGBT celebration.

Marchers carry a giant rainbow flag during the 2012 Toronto Pride Parade.

Marchers carry a giant rainbow flag during the 2012 Toronto Pride Parade.

Speeches were delivered, balloons were dropped, and drinks were handed out by a gaggle of shirtless men at the The Roundhouse on Thursday night for the official kickoff of the Countdown to Toronto WorldPride 2014.

Founded in 1997, WorldPride is intended to draw attention to LGBT issues on a global scale with a mixture of parades, cultural events, and symposia. The first WorldPride event was held in Rome in 2000. In 2009, Toronto was chosen to host the fourth edition of the festival, which will take place in June 2014.

WorldPride Toronto will coincide with the 45th anniversary of New York’s Stonewall Riots, which are considered to be the incident that started the modern gay rights movement.

Thursday’s kick-off event was meant both to raise awareness of WorldPride, and to start a series of announcements about programming. The first announcement was WorldPride 2014′s theme: “Rise Up,” inspired by the gay liberation anthem of the same name by early ‘80s Toronto band The Parachute Club.

Pride Toronto executive director Kevin Beaulieu thinks WorldPride will be noticeably different from Toronto’s regular Pride celebrations. It will include a broader range of events, more participation from the city’s cultural institutions and ethnocultural communities, and it will take place in more neighbourhoods.

“This isn’t something Pride Toronto is going to do on its own,” he said. “This is a one-time thing, and to make this the best event possible, we need to get everyone involved and engaged.”

Scott Mullin, Vice President of Community Relations with TD Bank, one of Pride’s major corporate sponsors, said that the level of support given to Pride Toronto from the city’s power structure was one of the reasons Toronto was awarded the event.

“In 2009 Pride Toronto bid for WorldPride, and I went down to Florida as part of that bid,” he said. “We had with us a banker and a Toronto Police officer as part of our delegation, and for some of the people who were there to vote on behalf of pride festivals from around the world, the fact that Toronto had a banker and a police officer as part of their pitch committee was an astonishing comment. If you came from Bucharest, the notion that there was a police officer and a banker working with Pride was amazing.”

Beaulieu said that sense of surprise from people in other countries shows why Pride is still very much a political event, in spite of the party atmosphere. Even today, not all countries are as LGBT-friendly as Canada. At WorldPride, Beaulieu believes the party will be bigger, but that the political scope will also be broader.

“We’re going to build on the Pride we already throw, and make sure there’s a call out to the world to have a dialogue about what’s going on in queer communities around the world,” he said, adding that the multicultural nature of Toronto was one of the things that appealed to InterPride, the international governing body responsible for awarding WorldPride.

“49 per cent of Torontonians weren’t born in Canada,” he said. “That is a really spectacular source of strength when you want to host an international event.”

Given the global scope of the event, Beaulieu hopes that Mayor Rob Ford, who has yet to attend Pride as mayor, will give his annual cottage vacation a pass to come to WorldPride. If he doesn’t, the party will go on without him.

“We have to have faith that the people of Toronto and their elected officials are going to continue to recognize the importance of Pride on a political, cultural and social level, as well as the importance of having an event that hosts 1.22 million people and brings $277 million into the local economy,” Beaulieu said.

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