London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
There was a time when London’s gay community had to rally in a parking lot and had to hold a picnic with no signs to make anyone aware of what was being celebrated.
But in many ways, those days, and many others, seem a long time ago. From July 22-29, the city will celebrate 30 years of growth with the annual Pride London Festival. In addition to the 18th Annual Pride London Parade, the festival will include nearly two-dozen events around the city, including a three-day celebration at the city’s festival central, Victoria Park.
“You think we have come from a parking lot at Pal Mall and Colborne streets to now Victoria Park. That is a long way. Even when we were at the fair grounds, that wasn’t as mainstream as this is,” said Martin Withenshaw, president of Pride London Festival.
“Most exciting, the city has been working with us, encouraging us to be there, to be in Victoria Park,” Withenshaw said. That is a sign to me that we are growing up. There have been a lot of growing pains for sure, but there are so many positives now.”
London, Withenshaw said, hasn’t always had the closest relationship with the gay community. For example, in 1995, Mayor Dianne Haskett refused to issue a Gay Pride Proclamation and city council also declined to issue the Gay Pride Proclamation.
However, there have also been positives. In 1994, Marion Boyd, MPP for the former riding of London Centre, as well as Attorney General of Ontario, was responsible for Bill 167, which would have granted benefits to same-sex couples. Even though the bill ultimately failed, Withenshaw said it formed the basis of changes to come.
In 1995, former London West MP Sue Barnes worked with a small group of the caucus members in the House of Commons to introduce legislation to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include freedom from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation
“Ironically, London has been a leader in Canada, in Ontario, leading the way in positive changes around issues of sexual orientation,” Withenshaw said. “But in London itself, there has been more of a challenging relationship. Through persistence, and being more inclusive, that has helped change things. We do have a community that does accept the gay community.”
As for this year’s festival there are 10 different locations around the city that will host Pride Week events. The activities begin on Sunday, July 22 with the Pride Barbecue at Metropolitan Community Church (138 Wellington St.), at 4:30 p.m. The barbecue is followed by a community church service at 7 p.m.
On Monday, July 23, the Pride Film Night at the Wolf Performance Hall takes place with a showing of Boy I Am, a film that explores transgender issues through the lives of three young people transitioning from female to male.
The rest of the week is highlighted by events such as Pride Literary Night (July 24), Pride Karaoke Night (July 25) and the 21st annual Pride Art Exhibit Opening (July 26).
The weekend will see a variety of events primarily in Victoria Park, but also taking place at Hilton London (Trail Blazers, from 7-9 p.m. and 2012 Pride Dance, from 9 p.m. to 1 p.m.).
At Victoria Park, there will be two stages set up, one at the park band shell and the other, the TD Family Stage, set up towards the Dufferin Street end of the park. One highlight of the Victoria Park festival is the 2012 Mr. and Miss Pride London Festival Show.
It is an event Withenshaw said is another example of how mainstream the festival has become.
“You look at the Mr. and Miss Pride London Festival show; that is on the Friday from 10-11 p.m. It really is a family event,” Withenshaw said. “If you look at how mainstream drag has become, shows like RuPaul's Drag Race. That says a lot right there.”
The Outdoor Festival, which takes place on Saturday, July 28, will include a beer garden, food, local vendors and family entertainment. That entertainment will include more than a dozen artists on the band shell stage, on the acoustic Family stage, and also a kid zone and pet zone as well.
Of course, for many London residents, the Pride Parade (July 29) is the biggest attraction of the week. The parade begins at 12:30 p.m. and will travel north on Ontario Street to Queens Ave., west on Queens Ave to Wellington Street, and north on Wellington Street to Wolfe Street before dispersing at Victoria Park.
The OPP will be involved in this year’s parade, as will Mayor Joe Fontana and a special invited guest, Kathleen Wynne, MPP Don Valley West. Wynne is the province's first openly lesbian cabinet minister.
“The parade route moves from Western Fair down Queen Street. That was chosen because it is more residential, there is more shade. People can sit out on their lawns and watch the parade go by,” Withenshaw said. “I know if I wasn’t going to be busy in the parade, that is what I would be doing. As the mayor wrote in his message in the guide, ‘Who doesn’t love a parade?’”
For more information on the Pride London Festival, including the locations and times of all the events, visit www.pridelondon.ca.
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Last year's Pride Parade