By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario — As the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games approaches, the 35th Pride Toronto festival will kick off this weekend with a human rights conference examining the issues affecting the gay and lesbian community in the Pan Am region.
The 10-day festival (June 19-28) under the theme — “Come Out and Play!” — has organized the “Pride and Prejudice: Our Human Rights Conference” which will take place at University College, University of Toronto on June 20 from 9am to 6pm.
In the Pride Guide, co-chairs of Pride Toronto, Aaron Glyn Williams and Alicia Hall, and Mathieu Chantelois, executive director, say last year they hosted over two million people at a successful WorldPride.
“For 2015, Pride Toronto delivers a dynamic 10-day festival that celebrates the best of ourselves and engages our city in important conversations about the successes and challenges facing our community throughout the Pan Am region.
Pride Toronto has planned a thought-provoking human rights conference, as well as signature events and performances that celebrate the power and beauty of our diverse voices,” they write in their welcome.
Organizers say the second annual conference begins a critical dialogue that focuses on life in the Pan American region through a diverse range of case studies, panels and testimonials.
“From trans activists and academics, to sex workers and community organizers, Pride and Prejudice provides the platform to explore our community’s struggles and triumphs, against the backdrop of Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games,” they write in a synopsis of the conference.
It is organized by Pride Toronto, along with The Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and PrideHouse Toronto, in conjunction with Rainbow Railroad, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.
“By bringing our community’s issues across the region to light, Pride and Prejudice seeks to build bridges across geographies, identities, and experiences. This one-day conference provides thought-provoking discussions with internationally recognized panelists tacking human rights across the Pan Am region,” note the organizers.
The PrideHouseTO Initiative is a comprehensive, province-wide engagement and activation strategy for the lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer (LGBTQ) communities in Ontario during and leading up to the TORONTO 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games.
It is a collaboration of over 12 organizations representing social services, education, government, labour, business and sport and recreation sectors and builds upon the tradition and success of Pride Houses during Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games and London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Since its emergence in 2010, the concept of a Pride House (a focused and intentional space, and a set of programs targeted to LGBTQ people and allies, within a large games event) has become a foundational element of the multi-sport games ecology.
Pride House initiatives were developed in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, in Brazil for the World Cup and are being developed in Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
“In Ontario, the TORONTO 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games provide a unique opportunity to build capacity in our LGBTQ communities, to engage LGBTQ people in sport, para-sport and recreation and to challenge and address homophobia and transphobia that prevents LGBTQ people from living active, healthy lives in our communities, province and across the Pan-American region.
“Through arts, cultural programming, capacity building, training, education, celebrations and through strategic advocacy, the PrideHouseTO initiative will leverage the TORONTO 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games to build a stronger, healthier society,” says PrideHouse on its website.
Also happening at this year’s Pride is the 17th annual Blockorama at the TD Wellesley Stage from noon to 11pm on June 28 featuring headline performances from international soca sensation, Destra Garcia, and Sharaya J.
“The Blockorama stage has been one of the most enjoyable and dynamic stages at Pride Toronto. A celebration of our black and Caribbean communities, Blockorama is also a vehicle for HIV/AIDS information dissemination. The longest running recurring Pride program, this community-led setting has created a safe and affirming space for black diasporic community members and their loved ones since 1998,” says the write-up on the event.
Blockorama will feature over 20 performances throughout the day and evening, culminating with the popular deejay, jojoflores.
The event is programmed by Blackness Yes!, a committee made up of members of Toronto’s black queer and trans communities.
Mayor John Tory, city leaders, and members of government will join Pride Toronto for the official kick off of Pride on June 22 at City Hall for the flag raising event.
The annual AIDS Candlelight Vigil will be held on June 23 in the Barbara Hall Park at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Hall, a former mayor and chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, was the first mayor to participate in the Pride Parade when during her tenure, 1994-1997.
The event is held to honour, remember and celebrate the lives of those lost to AIDS and recognizes those currently affected by, and living with, HIV/AIDS in Canada.
The public is invited to join in lighting a candle “to show your commitment to wards a future of “Getting to Zero” – zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”
Kicking off the Pride celebrations on June 19 at the opening party on Church Street will be the multifaceted artist, YouTube and MT sensation, Todrick Hall.
He became well- known when he auditioned for the ninth season of American Idol, where he made it to the semi-finals.
Elsewhere in the city this weekend, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival on June 19 will be headlined by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, responsible for revolutionizing R&B during the ‘70s and twisting soul music into funk.
The free performance will take place at Nathan Phillips Square as part of Music Mania weekend.
With Clinton at the helm of the mothership, funk music blasted off into the stratosphere during the 1970s. Making P-Funk a household name, the hugely prolific leader led two of the most important groups at that time – Parliament and Funkadelic.
He would eventually go on to build an impressive solo discography, continuing to spread the gospel of funk to the masses and inspiring a new generation of artists and music lovers.
Clinton joins previously announced acts, Morris Day & The Time and New Orleans’ very own Dumpstaphunk.
Wristbands will be distributed at 4 p.m. on the east side of Nathan Phillips Square for entry into the George Clinton show on the Toronto Star Stage, inside the tent. It will be one wristband per person and the show starts at 9pm.
Dumpstaphunk and Morris Day & The Time will be performing on the Outdoor Stage at 5pm and wristbands are not required for these two shows.
The TD Toronto Jazz Festival runs from June 18 to June 29, featuring the best in local, national and international talent playing a diverse range of genres and including over 350 concerts across more than 40 locations.