A Brief History of Pride

Pride Toronto continues a legacy that is deeply intertwined with the rich, progressive history of Toronto’s queer community. From a small gathering of dedicated activists fighting for their right to love and be seen, to clashes with the government and police, to the vibrant celebration we know today, Pride has been a long time in the making.

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Pride Toronto

Founded  1981

The Timeline

  1. 1970

    A picnic is organized by Toronto's first queer activist organizations - the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UHTA), Toronto Gay Action Now, and the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT).

    On the 28th of that month, under police watch, the first gay demonstration in Ottawa takes place. 100 activists attend.

  2. 1971

    Toronto's first "Gay Day Picnic" is held at Hanlan's Point on Sunday, August 1st, as a fundraiser to send activists to Ottawa for a 2nd anniversary march marking decriminalization.

    Body Politic formed.

  3. 1972

    On July 9th, the second annual Gay Picnic is held as part of a series of events for the first Gay Pride Week. The week includes a festival, film night, Pride Dance, a rally and a march to Queen's Park. Activists present a brief to the Ontario government.

    “We Demand” demonstrations held – lobbied for “true equality” on Parliament Hill – Ottawa.

    The Judy Garland Memorial Bowling League one of the oldest queer sports in North American, holds the first banquet to raise money for gay and Lesbian charities.  In 1983, US Custom Service seized the leagues registration forms when members attempted to participate in the Int’l Gay Bowling Tournament. The league continues to play today and teams compete for the coveted “Red Ruby Slipper” trophy!

  4. 1973

    Pride Week is August 17th-26th. The organizers ask Mayor David Crombie to recognize the event, but are turned down. Permission to march on Yonge Street is also denied.

  5. 1974

    Pride Week is August 17th-24th and includes another Pride Picnic on Ward's Island, a theatre night and church service at Metropolitan Community Church.

    More than 100 people march from Allan Gardens to Queen's Park in an effort to include sexual orientation in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

    The mainstream press reports on the events for the first time. The Globe and Mail misreports the numbers of those involved and the mood of the event, characterizing the marchers as "beating a hasty retreat".

    The Brunswick Four – Four Lesbian feminists took to the open mike night – sang “I Enjoy Being a Dyke” – arrested for promoting Lesbian Riot.

  6. 1975

    No organized Pride events took place.

  7. 1976

    The Cabbagetown Group Softball League (CGSL) was founded with four co-ed teams.  By 2014, 18 teams in 3 divisions play with more than 300 members.

    No organized Pride events take place, but the Fourth Annual Gay Conference for Canada and Quebec is held in Toronto.

  8. 1977

    No organized events.

    Anita Bryant declares her war on homosexuality. 

    Teenager Emmanuel Jacques is raped and murdered above Yonge Street, and a strong backlash is levelled against the Toronto gay community.

    Quebec becomes first province to include sexual orientation in its Human Rights code.

  9. 1978

    From August 24th-27th, GAYDAYS: In Celebration of Lesbians and Gay Men, is held. This was the first year Pride Day was celebrated at Cawthra Park, with ceremonies on the steps of the 519 Community Centre and a beer garden in the park.

    Some speakers generate controversy by supporting intergenerational sex and S/M. A PrideFair is also held at Queen's Park.

    The Barracks Bathhouse raids take place. Customers are arrested and police inflict extensive damage to the premises.

  10. 1979

    No organized Pride events took place.

    Buddies in Bad Times Theatre established.  Known as the largest and longest-running queer theatre company in the world.

  11. 1980

    No organized Pride events. 

    Out and Out Social Club was founded – goal “to be out of the closet and out in the country”.

    George Hislop the first LGBT candidate for any political office in Ontario.

  12. 1981

    On February 5, Metro Toronto Police raid various bathhouses – known as “Operation Soap”, arresting 306 men, in the largest Canadian mass arrest except for the October 1970 FLQ crisis. Again, extensive property damage is inflicted by police. For added public humiliation, the "found-ins" are herded into the streets in towels to be processed. The names of those arrested are publicized by the police and local media, destroying several lives.

    A major demonstration is held at Yonge and Wellesley the next day by hundreds of Toronto queers and their supporters, closing down the street. Activists start working, and the group Gays and Lesbians Against the Right is formed. Future mayor Barbara Hall is among the legal counsel defending those arrested.

    Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Toronto is legally incorporated. 1,500 celebrate Pride Day on Sunday, June 28th, at Grange Park. In spite of the politically charged atmosphere that year, the day is billed as a time to relax, celebrate, and as "an afternoon of fun and frolic."

  13. 1982

    June 28th at Grange Park, despite opposition from City Hall, 2,700 attend with the participants from the "Doing It" and "Wilde 82" conferences.

  14. 1983

    Pride is held June 26th, this year at King's College Circle, University of Toronto, due to previous complaints from Grange Park area residents. 3,000 people come to celebrate.

  15. 1984

    Pride is held on July 1st, Canada Day, in Cawthra Park with 5,000 celebrants.

    Reviving the political aspect of Pride, the theme for this year is "We Are Everywhere: 150 Years of Faggots and Dykes." The event was a commemoration of "diesel dykes, street kids and drag queens (as still being) our dispossessed."

    For the first time Church Street is closed and people dance in the street.

  16. 1985

    Under the theme "Coming Together," Pride Day is held June 30th. Mayor Art Eggleton refuses to proclaim Lesbian & Gay Pride Week. 8,000 attend the festivities in Cawthra Park.

    First Aids walk held – walk up Church Street – to break the Silence – 50 people attended the walk.

  17. 1986

    Pride's theme for this year is "Forward Together." Again Mayor Eggleton refuses the proclamation, yet 10,000 celebrate in Cawthra Park.

    The first Pride Committee is formed to organize the event. For the first time, the Pride program and logo focusses on AIDS. The logo depicts an "electrocardiogram recording the last heartbeats of people dying of AIDS."

    Despite AIDS inducing hysteria and creating pariahs of people with the disease, corporate sponsors support Pride for the first time and help meet growing expenses for the event.

  18. 1987

    Sexual orientation is included in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

    Pride's theme is "Rightfully Proud," and 15,000 people attend. Again, Mayor Eggleton refuses to issue a proclamation.

  19. 1988

    For "Viva la Difference," Pride Day gets its first parade Grand Marshals; Karen Andrews and Svend Robinson.

    The temporary AIDS Memorial is installed in Cawthra Park.

    Aids Action Now (AAN) held landmark demonstrations at the Toronto General Hospital to protest the drug trials that were playing Russian roulette with Aids patients and delaying the release of Pentamidine, a lifesaving medicine that was already tested and approved by the FDA.

    20,000 people attend Pride celebrations. Official proclamation is again refused by Mayor Eggleton.

  20. 1989

    Pride's theme is "Vision 20/20: Setting Our Sights," to remember the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. While 25,000 people attend, official proclamation is again refused.

  21. 1990

    Pride's theme is "By All Means Necessary."

    Mayor Art Eggleton still refuses to proclaim Pride Week. After he proclaims "Official Muppet Baby Day", the Pride Committee files a complaint of discrimination with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Toronto City Council votes to officially proclaim Pride Day, then recants. The Ontario Human Rights Commission rules against the Committee which is now left with $10,000 in legal fees.

    Aids Action Now holds a parade Die-In. 40,000 people come and celebrate this year.

    Gay Games lll Vancouver are held and are the first to take place outside of the United States.  The first World Outgames was held in Montreal.

  22. 1991

    "Everyday, Everywhere: A New Decade of Pride" celebrates the tenth anniversary of the incorporation of the Pride Committee.

    City Council proclaims Pride Day for the first time. The parade Grand Marshals this year are Two-Spirited People of the First Nations. 80,000 people celebrate.

    In November, openly gay candidate Kyle Rae wins a seat as City Councilor for Ward 6.

    Alberta Gay Rodeo Association established – largest in the world.

  23. 1992

    The Supreme Court rules that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act, gays and lesbians cannot be excluded from entering the Canadian Forces. The federal government does not appeal the ruling.

    "Breaking the Silence" is Pride's theme. This year the Grand Marshals are children of gay and lesbian parents. 120,000 people attend.

  24. 1993

    150,000 people take part in Pride Day in Toronto. To celebrate the theme "Come Out", the parade Grand Marshals are members of "support groups to gays and lesbians in the coming out process".

    The parade starts at Carlton Street at Church, moves over to Yonge, up to Bloor and back over to Church. The Metropolitan Community Church holds services in the morning at Maple Leaf Gardens.

    In the U.S., one million lesbians, gays and transgendered people attend the March On Washington with Canadians making up the largest international contingent.

  25. 1994

    Pride's theme is "The Best is Yet To Come." The theme, chosen the previous fall, proves correct as provincial MPPs defeat Bill 167 recognizing same sex spousal benefits in Ontario after NDP Premier Bob Rae puts it to a free vote. Liberal opposition leader Lynn MacLeod flip flops, first supporting, then voting against the bill. Third party Progressive Conservative leader Mike Harris opposes the bill.

    The parade Grand Marshals are drag kings and queens in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Stonewall. The Church Street Business Association lines Church Street with permanent rainbow flags. 400,000 people come and celebrate.

    At the Pride March, parade goers staged the largest LGBT political action in Canadian History – 50,000 marchers wrapping a pink ribbon and forming a human chain around the legislative assembly.

    Cutting edge Gay Men’s Hockey Club of Vancouver came together.

  26. 1995

    For "Remember, Celebrate, Make a Difference", the parade Grand Marshals are Jim Egan and Jack Nesbit, who lose a spousal benefits decision but win a Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution recognizes the equality of lesbians and gays.

    The Pride Committee collapses in February due to a mass resignation of a majority of the Board of Directors in a vote of non-confidence against the board itself. Kyle Rae assists community members to reorganize a new committee which in 15 weeks organizes Toronto's largest Pride Day, and North America's largest at 650,000 official celebrants.

    New Police Chief David Boothby allows four lanes on Yonge Street to close for Canada's second largest parade, which takes over three hours. MPs Svend Robinson and Bill Graham, and Mayor Barbara Hall speak on the stages and walk in the parade.

  27. 1996

    Pride's theme is "We Are Everyone's Family." The Grand Marshals are four lesbian couples who won the right to adopt their partner's children. 750,000 celebrated during Pride Day and throughout the three-hour parade. The first ever Dyke March is held, with a turnout on Saturday of 5,000 – police projected an attendance of 50!

    The Pride stage runs for two days at 11 hours each day of continuous queer music, featuring Carole Pope, the Parachute Club, and comedian Elvira Kurt. The City of Toronto and the Pride Committee study Pride's economic impact and show that over 46 million dollars is spent by Pride tourists.

    First Pride and Remembrance Run takes place.

  28. 1997

    "Queer By Nature" is the theme for Pride Week, running June 23rd-29th. An estimated crowd of 750,000 turn out for the week's events. The Pride Committee recognizes as Grand Marshals those individuals involved in establishing anti-homophobia initiatives within the education system in Toronto. They include Tim McCaskell, Tony Gambini, John Campey, Krin Zook, Vanessa Russel, Margot Francis, Doug Stewart, and Ken Watson. The sun shines on 10,000 women who take part in the second annual Dyke March.

  29. 1998

    "MegaPride" is the theme for the first Pride Week celebration in the newly amalgamated "megacity" of Toronto, June 22nd-28th. After initial reservations, new "megamayor" Mel Lastman has a fantastic time on a firetruck in the parade, getting soaked by revelers with power water guns. 12,000 women take part in the Dyke March.

    First Blockorama

    Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in response to the murder of Rita Hester.

  30. 1999

    Pride Week's theme is "One Pride Fits All." Young people raise their profile at Pride, with a large contingent in the parade and the addition of Fruit Loopz as one of the entertainment events.

    This time, Mayor Lastman is armed with his own "supersoaker," giving back to the crowd as good as he gets. Corporate sponsorship revenues are higher than ever and put Pride on firm financial footing for the next year.

  31. 2000

    "Heroic Past, Proud Future" - a time to look back on all that LGBT communities have accomplished and gird our loins for battles yet to be won. Heroes Sky Gilbert and Michelle Douglas join the parade as Grand Marshals.

    September 2000, Pussy Palace Raid – The Pussy Palace Raid so called because the women’s event that night was Named “The Pussy Palace”. The raid and charges brought against the Pussy Palace organizers were condemned by the LGBTQ community.  On Oct. 28th, the Pussy Palace Panty Picked Protest was held in front of police headquarter, 52 Division. Protesters waved panties and boxer briefs as well as posters with slogans – “No more raids,” “[email protected]” “Sluts can’t be shamed” and “Fuck you, 52” (slogan used in protests  established through Black & Caribbean LGBTQ communities).

    On January 31, 2002 Judge Peter Hryn declared that the five male officers violated the Constitutional rights of the women attending the Pussy Palace event.  It was his opinion that women were entitled to a safe place to explore their sexuality without the imposition of men. He went on to compare the raid to a strip search, and that it was “one of the clearest cases” of inappropriate law enforcement.  All charges were dropped, the Police were forced to pay $350,000.00 and issue an apology from the officers who conducted the raid and a commitment from the force to beef up sensitivity training for its 7,260 members.

  32. 2001

    "Love" is in the air at Pride 2001.

    Our LGBTTIQ community proudly unites to discover, celebrate and express love for our partners, our communities, and ourselves. For the first time, the City's Official Proclamation of Pride Week includes bisexuals, transsexuals, and transgendered persons. Grand Marshal is Mirha Soleil-Ross and Honoured Group is the 519 Community Centre. The Globe and Mail reports that Toronto's Pride parade has become "a Canadian institution."

    With 850 spectators, including 60 representatives of the media, and tight security, Rev. Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community church presided over a double same-sex wedding Elaine and Anne Vantour and Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varmell.

  33. 2002

    "Uncensored!" was the theme for the 2002 Pride Toronto celebrations.

    J.P. Hornick and Rachel Aitcheson of the Toronto Women's Bathouse Committee are this year's Grand Marshals, while the Glad Day Bookshop is the Honoured Group. Coinciding with Canada Day celebrations, the opening of Dundas Square, and with an extended parade route, this year's Pride Parade is expected to break all records. Come on out, and help us make her/history!

  34. 2003

    The theme for Pride Week 2003 was: Pride 3D: "Diverse • Defiant • Divine."

    Grand Marshal John Fisher, Executive Director of Egale Canada, was recognized for his hard work and dedication to issues of justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender people across the country. In his eighth and final year at the helm of Egale, he was also appreciated for his part in building up this, Canada’s first national queer rights organization.

    Honoured Group T.E.A.C.H. (Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia), a program of Planned Parenthood of Toronto, is made up of youth aged 15 to 25. T.E.A.C.H. volunteers provide important anti-homophobia training in high schools across the city of Toronto. Entering it’s 10th year, T.E.A.C.H. has worked hard to address systemic oppression and eradicate the teasing and violence often experienced by LGBTQ youth.

  35. 2004

    The theme for Pride Week 2004 was: "Bursting with Fruit Flavours".

    Grand Marshal George Hislop was a longtime community activist and hero. He was an integral part of the early beginnings of Toronto’s first gay rights group, the University of Toronto Homophile Association. He also served on the board of Directors of the AIDS Committee of Toronto, the Hassle Free Clinic, and recently won an important court victory for CPP survivors pensions in a national class action.

    The Honoured Group for 2004 was The Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal Foundation (LGCA). The LGCA has been a cornerstone of Toronto’s LGBTTIQ community for almost 25 years, raising funds to support more than 767 projects that have benefited countless individuals, groups and organizations. For more information http://www.lgca.ca

  36. 2005

    The theme for Pride Week 2005 was: Pride 25: "25 years and counting".

    Grand Marshal Salah Bachir is a generous philanthropist, successful businessman and visionary patron of the arts. Salah Bachir has long been a fervent supporter of the gay and lesbian community. As Chair of The 519 Capital Campaign he has raised more than $5-million for the expansion and renovation of The 519 Community Centre – $750,000 of which was donated by himself. A longtime member of CANFAR’s board of directors, Bachir has organized countless fundraisers for AIDS research and patient care. Somehow, he also manages to fit in a day job as President of Famous Players Media Inc., and Publisher of Famous magazines.

    Honoured Group: Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto

    MCC Toronto has achieved much in the areas of human rights and social justice over the last 32 years, most recently with the landmark same-sex marriage court case. In an age where the increasing trend in World Religions is towards discriminatory fundamentalism, more and more people reject Religion because they see it as an agent of their oppression. It is crucially important that there be growing, vibrant congregations like MCC Toronto.

  37. 2006

    The theme for Pride Week 2006 was "Fearless."

    Pride Week 2006 saw a return to Pride's political roots. The Parade, lead by Pride Toronto's first International Grand Marshal, highlighted the issues of inequality faced by our brothers and sisters worldwide and honoured the heroes of Toronto's own queer community past and present. The second annual Pride Toronto Gala and Awards grew into a major community event this year, with a diverse group of award winners from all parts of the queer community in attendance.

    Grand Marshals Donald Middleton & Clayton Wilson and Robert Berry & Les Sheare are two couples that have been together for a combined 100 years. Donald and Clayton met in London, Ontario in 1956 and "lived without fear in a time when it wasn't acceptable." Robert and Les met on March 17th, 1956. After being together for 47 years they got married on August 9th, 2003.

    International Grand Marshal Bill Schiller, Secretary General of the International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network (ILGCN) Information Secretariat. He embodied this year's fearless theme as co-founder of Tupilak, a Nordic organization of lesbian and gay cultural workers, campaigning tirelessly to shed light and support to our sister queer communities experiencing oppression, neo-Nazi violence, fascism, and state sanctioned violence throughout the world.

    There were two Honoured Groups this year, Primetimers Toronto and SOY (Supporting Our Youth). Both of these groups represent a range of people, from youth to those in their "prime," reflecting what makes the Pride Parade so special -- diversity. Primetimers is a social group of gay men over the age of 40 who meet monthly to discuss and ensure the value of diversity. SOY caters to youth of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, experiences and passions. They assist in improving the lives of queer youth through arts, culture and recreational programs.

    Honoured Dyke Zahra Dhanani. "Women hold some of the world's most sacred truths and are vessels of unimaginable power. As we move into an era where women will be ascending to the greatest heights imaginable, we need more than ever to be FEARLESS - in our love of self, our love of each other and our willingness to be who we are against all odds." -- Zahra Dhanani.

    Honoured Dyke Group is WRIB (Women in Recreation and Business). WRIB is a networking organization for lesbians and bisexual women in the Greater Toronto Area. The organization has been providing a safe environment for its members since 1991 where they can share and learn from each others' experience. They foster fearlessness in the community with their wide range of programs such as dinners, dances, and seminars.

    International Conference on LGBT Human Rights with over 2,000 held.

  38. 2007

    Pride Week this year was “Unstoppable!”

    The International Grand Marshal was Rosanne Flamer-Caldera, founding member and Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND, the only mixed LGBTIQ organization striving for equality for all orientations and gender identities in Sri Lanka.

    Parade Grand Marshal was Russell Alldread (aka Michelle DuBarry), a drag performer for the past 50 years and member of the Imperial Court of Toronto since its inception 20 years ago.

    Honoured Group was PFLAG Toronto, one of over 60 chapters nationally aiming to end discrimination and secure equal rights.

    Honoured Dyke was Rachel Epstein, who developed Dykes Planning Tykes (with local midwife, Kathie Duncan) as part of the LGBT Parenting Network at the Sherbourne Health Centre. This group also led the Dyke March as Honoured Group.

  39. 2008

    The theme this year was “Unified!” and this was put into play with the addition of a new stage in George Hislop Park, which featured performances by trans artists from across North America.

    The third-ever International Grand Marshal was Gareth Henry, former Co-chair and Program Manager of JFLAG (the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) and Co-founder of the Sunshine Cathedral in Jamaica. He was also the recipient of the 2006 Human Rights Watch Award and the Canadian HIV Legal Network Award.

    The Parade Grand Marshal was Enza “Supermodel” Anderson, a trans woman who challenged what it means to be “queer” in mainstream society through her trailblazing and high-profile work as a columnist for Metro, her candidacy for Mayor of Toronto, and her years of tireless efforts raising funds on behalf of a variety of LGBT organizations. Honoured Group was Friends for Life Bike Rally, the second-largest fundraiser benefiting HIV/AIDS in Canada. 

    Honoured Dyke was Anna Willats, an instructor at George Brown College and a member of the boards of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and the Mayworks Festival of Working People in the Arts. She was an activist with a long and successful history of supporting queer and trans rights in the community.

    Honoured Group at the Dyke March was the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club (TNG), whose mission is to provide a safe and positive space for all women to explore the sport of boxing. They developed outreach programs, including free classes for youth in the Children’s Aid Society, pursued funding for programs for at-risk youth, and also set for full inclusion of trans women in their activities.

    Pride Week in 2008 also saw some major celebrity action: Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours tour (featuring the B-52s, Rosie O'Donnell, Indigo Girls, and The Cliks) came to Toronto as part of our Pride Week Events, former Spice Girl Melanie C performed on our main stage, and comedian/singer Sandra Bernhardt hosted our annual Pride Toronto Gala and Awards, as well as performing at Massey Hall during Pride Week.

  40. 2009

    This year was our chance to show the world who we are and what we’re about with the theme of “Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop.”

    International Grand Marshal, Victor Juliet Mukasa, Parade Grand Marshal, El Farouk Khaki, and Honoured Group, AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) guided the community through amazing stories of equality, human rights, respect, diversity, honour, love, and acceptance at several human rights rallies and events.

    This year brought about the debut of “Project Parade,” which partnered art students and creative individuals with community groups in the artistic direction of parade entries. This offered a platform for their creative talents, while fostering ties with community and supporting a worthwhile cause.

    Honoured Dyke this year was Faith Nolan, a community builder, queer feminist, and musician who dedicated herself to social activism for more then three decades. 

    Honoured Dyke Group was the Toronto Roller Derby League (ToRD), an entirely female organization and the largest flat-track derby league in North America. Part of their mission is to include women of all shapes, sizes, and colours, whether they sit in the stands or join on the track. All of their bouts are wheelchair accessible, queer positive, and kid friendly.

    Major performers this year included Deborah Cox and Kelly Rowland (formerly of Destiny’s Child).

    First Trans March.

  41. 2010

    Vancouver and Whistler Pride Houses were the first to be held/opened during the Olympics.

  42. 2012

    Decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal strikes down several laws related to sex work effectively decriminalizing prostitution in the province.

  43. 2014

    Bill BC-279 passed by senate on second reading – amends Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

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