The man who puts together Toronto's Pride week (with help from 2,000 of his closest friends).
Toronto’s Pride celebrations are undeniably a big deal, and this year, WorldPride is upping the ante considerably. Event organizers estimate the 10-day festival will contribute more than a quarter of a billion dollars to the city’s economy and bring millions of visitors to Toronto. As executive director of Pride Toronto, Kevin Beaulieu is the man tasked with overseeing it all.
Beaulieu has been on the job since 2011, following an eight-year stint at City Hall (which included a year spent working for Kristyn Wong-Tam, the councillor whose ward hosts the majority of the Pride events) and plenty of queer community group involvement at the University of Toronto and elsewhere. He grew up in Simcoe, but Beaulieu, 43, has lived in Toronto for 25 years. “The late 1980s were a difficult time for LGBT people in small towns,” he says when asked what drew him to Toronto. “There’s a diversity of people here.”
His favourite part of the job? “The volunteers here are so passionate about what they do. I know other organizations struggle to find volunteers as committed and dedicated as the ones I get work with. They don’t ask for anything in return. They just love being part of the celebration.”
Our interview with Beaulieu—about programming for the LGBT community and celebrations with a purpose—is below.
Torontoist: So what exactly sets WorldPride apart from the homegrown Toronto Pride that we all know and love?
Kevin Beaulieu: It is built on a successful Pride that’s taken generations to build. The result is the work of many people. There will still be a parade, but it’ll be an enhanced parade—it will be longer, much bigger, and with an international scope and scale to it, which will be true of the whole festival. There will be a Parade of Nations in there, and some additional performance elements. There will be an opening ceremony happening in Nathan Phillips Square [it occurred on June 20], where Gilbert Baker is going to raise the rainbow flag for us. He’s the creator of the flag, so it’s going be an amazing event. We’ll have a closing ceremony, which hasn’t been done before, where we’ll hand off WorldPride to the next host city, Madrid, which hosts in 2017.
Very importantly for WorldPride, human rights is at the centre of what we do. We celebrate, but it’s a celebration with a purpose. We will have about 400 people at the WorldPride Human Rights conference, including about 150 presenters, thinkers, activists, and artists from over 50 countries, for a dialogue about human rights in our communities worldwide. That’s central to what WorldPride is. We can take for granted here that it’s a celebration, and that nearly the whole city comes out to celebrate with us, but that’s not the case everywhere. It’s really important that we have an understanding of what’s happening around the world.
The final thing that makes it different this year is that we’ve extended partnerships with other organizations. There are galleries, museums, theatres, festivals—Luminato, TIFF and InsideOut, the AGO, Buddies in Bad Times, The Gardiner Museum. There are 17 of them, and between them they’ve put together 560 days worth of programming over the course of Pride. We asked them to step up and program for the LGBT communities, and they did that in a big way.
Toronto’s Pride is one of the biggest in the world, with tons of programming and festivals and celebrations for people of every age, background, sobriety level, and level of mobility. What are some of the biggest checkmarks on your to-do list when you’re putting this all together?
We exist to serve the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, two-spirit, and allies community. It’s right in our founding documents. That’s first and foremost. There are high expectations of a broad array of programming that reflects and serves all those communities. There are people who focus on the numbers, but I’m focused on the quality of the event and how people feel when they come away from it.
People know that we bring in over a million participants each year, and it’s expected to be more this year. There’s a practical checklist: we need 2,000 volunteers, and it’s easy to quantify that in terms of signatures on volunteer agreements. It’s not so easy to quantify the real contribution that they make, which is immense. There are details like the number of barricades that you need on the street, and the number of public toilets, and the fact that we build seven or eight of our stages in a day and then take them down overnight. We have fundraising goals—this year, it’s twice what we would aim for a in a regular year, partly because we’ve saved some money and partly because our partners at the city and provincial level have stepped up. You build your checklist out of having the practical experience of having produced the festival in the past. We know what we need to do, mechanically, to make it happen.
There has been controversy in the past few years about how the Trans March fits into the Pride landscape. Vice covered the issue in 2013, and trans activists have been vocal about feeling left out and underrepresented. How is the Pride event looking to change that this year?
The way the Pride is organized is that volunteer teams take on a certain aspect of the festival. There’s a team for the Dyke March, there’s a team for the Trans March, one for Family Pride—the list goes on. We have a Trans Pride team that works very hard not only to produce the mechanics of the event, but also to connect with the community. I think we could certainly do a much better job of that. But, you know, that’s an ongoing dialogue. It’s important to us that the trans community is part of who we serve. It’s not always easy. One of the challenges in an organization like Pride is that there’s such a broad diversity—is serving everyone. Everyone has an idea of what Pride should be, and all of those people are right, and it’s not always easy to reconcile all of those differing ideas, especially when sometimes they come into conflict. All we can do is continue the dialogue in good faith.
Our North Stage is focused largely on trans performances, for and by trans community members. That’s also where the Trans Pride March will happen on Friday June 27. That will take place on Yonge Street. It’s the longest route we’ve ever had for a Trans March, and it will end at Toronto’s main central square with performances by local band Crackpuppy, and the headliner of that show will be Against Me!, which has a huge following around the world. We don’t put the trans programming only in the trans spaces. It’s important to us that it’s infused throughout the festival as well.
What’s one thing you wish you could change about Pride?
It is a 10-day festival, and this year I think we’ve done a really good job of filling out that 10 days. It’s something we’ve always done in name, but it really gets kind of thin towards the middle. But everybody knows about the big weekend, and everybody rushes downtown for the parade and the marches and the street festival. I wouldn’t change that, but I would add to it. Spread it not just over the 10 days, but across the city more, so that it isn’t a matter of having everyone in one place at one time, but that people are feeling pride in their own neighbourhoods. They’re still going to come downtown, but if we can use that 10-day period to make people feel pride, maybe at a smaller scale, in their own communities and in their local pubs or dance clubs or community centre. WorldPride is starting to help us go down that path, but I’d like to see that enhanced and continued.