TORONTO – Cold temperatures and a constant drizzle didn’t seem to dampen spirits at Toronto’s 35th annual Pride parade, which brought together a diverse group of celebrities, politicians and people from all walks of life.
Huge crowds lined Toronto’s Yonge Street to watch the parade which was themed “Come out and Play,” waving flags, dressing up in outrageous costumes and proudly displaying their pride in what has traditionally been the largest event of its kind in the country. Water fights were noticeably absent at this year’s event as light showers drenched crowds throughout the day.
Elton John’s husband David Furnish, an east-end Toronto native and filmmaker, was the grand marshal of the festivities.
“It’s a real honour to be asked and to come back to my home city where I grew up and to see so much change, so much positive change, and to see the whole city turning out to support people on this iconic week and particularly in light of the big decision that happened in America on Friday,” he said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage a right across the United States.
“It just feels very meaningful to be here right now.”
Furnish, 52, said things have changed since his days growing up in the city, adding that he is “overwhelmed by how it’s changed.”
“If you were gay in your 20s and 30s in Toronto when I was growing up it was very much being part of a ghetto, part of a fringe society.,” he said. “You’re excluded, you’re on the outskirts, there was no integration and when you see the way the entire city of Toronto now embraces everybody collectively it’s an amazing and powerful thing.”
Furnish said Canada had a “huge impact” on the world by introducing the Civil Marriage Act, which passed exactly 10 years ago to the day, but said while the progress being made toward LGBTQ acceptance is encouraging, it was like “tipping dominos” one at a time.
“We have to keep tipping them over until we have the entire world free of homophobia and we have LGBTQ people decriminalized everywhere and we can’t stop until we’re finished,” he said.
“So it’s important to be here to celebrate the landmark of how far we’ve come but also to pay it forward and help all the people that need our support.”
International grand marshals included Bollywood actress and Indian gay rights supporter Celina Jaitly, members of Russian feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper and YouTube sensation and youth ambassador Brendan Jordan.
Political activist and Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said she’s hoping to see a similar parade in Russia one day.
“I’m happy to see so [many] people joining this Pride because you know we don’t have stuff like this in Russia yet,” she said, adding she believes there is a “small possibility” of a Pride parade in Moscow in the near future if there was more international pressure put on Russian President Vladimir Putin for LGBTQ rights.
Members of the band rode in the parade on a massive red rocket atop a military truck.
Politicians marching in Sunday’s parade included federal leaders Thomas Mulcair of the NDP, Liberal Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May of the Greens, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, along with provincial leaders Patrick Brown of the PCs and New Democrat Andrea Horwath, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“I think its important for political leaders across the country to come out for Pride parades because its a way of showing our support for the diversity of our society, wanting to break down barriers, making Canada a more inclusive place,” said Mulcair.
“I really wish Prime Minister Harper would have been here, as prime minister I would intend to come back to Pride year after year to show my support for the entire community, for the openness of Canadian society and for LGBTQ issues as a whole.”
Tory’s attendance was significant because of the fact that his predecessor, Rob Ford, routinely snubbed the event during his four years in office.