By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario – Out Music Award winner and R&B/reggae star, Diana King, will celebrate Pride Week at Blockorama, the longest running stage at the Toronto Pride Festival this weekend.
She is the first Jamaican artiste to publicly declare her same-sex identity. The singer came to prominence in the 1990s with her hit single ‘Shy Guy’ that peaked at 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold five million singles worldwide.
Based in the US, King will perform on the TD Wellesley Stage, across from Wellesley subway station on Sunday, June 30 at 6:15p.m.
Blackness Yes! – organizer of the annual Blockorama stage – is celebrating 15 years of ground-breaking dance, art and music at the event.
King was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica on November 8, 1970 and in June 2012 wrote a message on her Facebook post announcing that she is a lesbian.
“I am … woman … mother … aunt … Jamaican … American … international artiste … singer … songwriter … band leader … friend … lover … entrepreneur … goddess! among other things and yes!!!…I am a lesbian,” she wrote.
Explaining the reasoning for her decision to publicly declare her sexuality, King said she was afraid to do so initially because of fear of the unknown and how negativity could affect her career, family and loved ones.
“My biggest regret is that I didn’t come out earlier because being silent has held me back from being all that I was born to be. The deep fear that I’ve had, especially that my own Jamaican people will judge me and not accept me because of their homophobia has been a heavy burden. I fly my country’s flag high. Always with respect and honor everywhere I go, there is no doubt where I am from, especially in my music. And I am nothing but proud of myself and my accomplishments, no one can take that away from me, it is already written in the history books. But I often wonder, if Jamrock would have still been proud of me if they knew the truth from the days of Shy Guy,” she wrote.
King also wrote, “So even though I’m a woman of the world, living out of my massive duffle bags in different countries, week after week month after month, Jamaica has been in my head with great love and absolute fear. The harsh reality that people like me are persecuted, beaten, jailed, raped and murdered everyday just for being who they are or just even being suspected of it. It’s what I saw too many times growing up in Spanish Town and living in Kingston and it scared me to death. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It is hard to imagine the anguish inside if you are considered an abomination and cannot relate personally. But go ahead… imagine if for a minute.”
Before performing at Blockorama, the artiste will participate in the Yonge-Dundas Pop Up Party at 3pm, a showcase of Canadian and international talent in Toronto’s centrally-located public square.
This year, Blockorama will honour and celebrate the legacies, legends and love of Black and African diasporic communities. There will be a presentation to the founders of Blackness Yes!
Organizers are bringing back performers from the early days of Blockorama such as DJs Nik Red, Blackcat and jojoflores, and showcasing some new favorites like Benzito, Smiff, DJ Pleasure, and MC Jazz.
Drag legend, Michelle Ross, returns to the Blocko to host a divas celebration and the House of Xtravaganza from New York City who are celebrating their 30th anniversary in the ball scene will also perform.
Blackness Yes! is a community-based committee that works year-round to celebrate Black queer and trans history, creativity and resistance.
“We work to affirm, celebrate and ensure visible Black LGBTTI2QQ communities within Pride; to create a cultural space within Pride that any Black or Black affirming person can be a part of; and to create a vehicle for HIV/AIDS information dissemination,” reads the promotional material for the celebration.
The group is committed to anti-oppression, (self) love freedom and justice. “We are a space of resistance and actively fight systemic racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, classism and colonialism,” said the organizers.
Blockorama is a free licensed all-ages event which welcomes families and children. ASL interpretation will be provided and ID is not necessary for admission but is required to purchase alcohol. It starts at 11:30a.m. and ends with the last deejay spinning music at 10p.m.