Essay: Toronto’s Prideful World View

Butterflies and confetti along the World Pride Toronto parade route, June, 2014.

Butterflies and confetti along the World Pride Toronto parade route, June, 2014.

By Robert Israel

There are many audible and visual memories I took away from attending World Pride Toronto 2014 this past week: rainbows festooned on every street corner; confetti falling like snow from windows along Yonge Street, a central artery; raucous revelers, some marching wearing nothing but their smiles and birthday suits; boisterous, discordant, thump-thump music blaring from massive speakers.

I left with a sunburnt celebratory glow, knowing I had attended a fabulous party.

Yet there is something more I experienced: a true feeling of pride from being in a nation that serves as a beacon of hope, diversity, and opportunity to all, regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, or creed.

I used to make this statement about my homeland, the United States. As a citizen of the States, I am free to admire and criticize my homeland, and at this moment in time I am deeply disappointed in my homeland. I do not feel that way about Canada. Canada is a nation that takes the mission of being a beacon of hope seriously, and, in Toronto, at least, it demonstrated this commitment during a hugely successful World Pride.

As a reporter and citizen living in the States, I have grown more than weary from witnessing and chronicling the efforts of those struggling for personal dignity in the majority of states that steadfastly refuse to legalize marriage equality. (The battle is far from over.) I’m outraged when it comes to issues regarding undocumented workers and their families and the political football that has ensued regarding immigration reform (which was rebuffed yet again last week by a fractious Congress, prompting President Obama to say he’s going to work on it “on his own.”) I’m exasperated by the way the economy teeters, and the toll it takes by imperiling the lives of millions unable to find work and thus unable to rise above the malaise.

Arriving in Toronto, then, even in the heat, standing amidst pungent, sweaty, body-painted celebrants, came as a breath of refreshment.

But most importantly, for me, it’s the close associations that last the longest, well after the parades end and the confetti is sucked up by marauding city-owned vacuum vehicles. Thanks to Torontonians, I am reminded that no struggle is ever resolved quickly, and that progress is often measured in small steps, not in leaps and bounds. The goals may seem elusive, the finish line beyond reach: all the more reason never to lose sight or give up hope, because, even when you finally attain what has always seemed unattainable, when you ultimately get there, they will require constant nurturance, constant vigilance.

Patience is necessary in all things, dear neighbor, my friends in Toronto tell me: it will all work out in the end.

A rather enlightened, upbeat viewpoint, don’t you think? Saying it aloud makes me wonder if I will be labeled a Pollyanna because I intone the Torontonian mantra. So, a legitimate question should be asked: Can this sunburnt glow be sustained?

I believe the euphoria is well-deserved. I believe it will be long lasting. Coming back from Toronto, I believe change is happening, change will happen, change will come.

World Pride is a perfect example. For those who don’t know about it, World Pride is the brand of InterPride, a non-profit organization that promotes global LGBT events.


World Pride failed during previous attempts to hold rallies in London, Rome, and Jerusalem. So it turned to Toronto because, except for a couple instances of well-publicized acrimony — the wrongful termination and disparagement of Pride Toronto’s executive director Traci Sandilands, fiscal issues and accusations (unfounded) of malfeasance, and yearly snubs (and homophobic behavior) from soon-to-be former Mayor Rob Ford – Toronto delivers.

World Pride, it must be said, hitched its star onto Pride Toronto, not the other way around.

From now on, if they haven’t done so already, global cities will look to Toronto as the model for how to get Pride done right. Toronto has become the Gold Standard.

But let’s put accolades aside and return to the aforementioned Canada as the beacon of hope metaphor. One need only listen to the voices of the oppressed, published in the June issue of Toronto Life, as evidence that freedom has but a fragile footprint in many places on our planet.

“Homosexuality has been legal in Nepal since 2007, but gay couples still don’t have equality under law,” said Belu Gurung, a 34-year old cook now living in Toronto who is applying for Canadian citizenship. “Gay marriage isn’t recognized, and, culturally, it’s difficult to be a lesbian.”

“In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment, beatings and sometimes death,” said Arsham Parsi, a 33-year old administrator, who fled his homeland, has now become a Canadian citizen, and reaches out to help other immigrants.

Or, this voice, belonging to Rodney de Roche,26, a student from Trinidad, who fled his homeland after neighborhood gangs demanded money from him as payoff for not getting beat up. “When I told them I was broke,” he said, “they threatened to kill me, so I decided to flee.” He is awaiting a decision on his Canadian citizenship application.

Pride Toronto is many things to a very many people. It is a party with noise, confetti, costumes and more. It is an opportunity to be outrageous, outspoken, Out. I grew up in an era of repression, fear, anxiety, when anything you thought, felt or acted upon that was different from the “norm” was suspect, when shame was an emotion you felt keenly and were powerless not to feel it. Those days are not gone forever. Yes, the tenor of our times is more open. But the voices of the oppressed seeking asylum in Toronto proves that in many places in our world, openness does not apply to all.

By joining forces this year with World Pride, Toronto Pride became more global, more persuasive, a bully pulpit with clout that will be felt around the globe. The urgency to renew our efforts — with vigor — to ensure all men and women achieve the same level of freedom as their neighbors everywhere is the message that needs to be repeated, over and over again, to spur action, until we reach our goal.

The message printed on the banners in Toronto read: “Rise Up.”

Two words: two very profound words.

Robert Israel can be reached at


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