When police attempted to raid New York City gay bar The Stonewall Inn in 1969, patrons rioted. Raids in queer spaces were common at the time, but many visitors had finally had enough. Over the following days, altercations continued to break out in the city, and Stonewall became a defining moment in queer history. (So much so that President Obama just named it a national monument.) One year later, marches were held in multiple states—Pride parade prototypes.
By 1971, the movement had travelled north of the border. That August, about 300 people decorated Hanlan’s Point, a Toronto beach, with streamers, balloons and banners to celebrate Gay Picnic day. The next year, Toronto Pride spanned an entire week, culminating in the city’s first march. By the early ’80s, the festival attracted about 2,000 people—a number that grew to nearly 25,000 a decade later. (By comparison, organizers estimate that this year’s Pride Toronto festivities will draw 1.2 million visits.)
Across the country, progress varied. While Vancouver Pride developed in pace with Toronto, Montreal didn’t host a parade until the early ’80s. Halifax launched its first march in 1987, with a mere 75 people taking to the streets to protest homophobic discrimination and violence. Some wore bags over their heads to avoid being identified.
The movement hasn’t finished growing: this year, the LGBTQ+ community in Steinbach, Man., is fighting to march for the first time. Organizers were originally denied a permit, with RCMP officials reasoning that a segment of the route was dangerous as it was partially under construction. While the police are reviewing this assessment, many local politicians have refused to attend as of press time—although Manitoba’s top Mountie has said he’s in.
Pride—like its history—is complex, contradictory and contentious. Depending on who you ask, the ever-evolving festival may be a great party, a corporate cesspool or the only place that truly feels safe. Here, 12 queer, millennial women discuss what Pride means to them.
Storm Larocque, 24, Hay River N.W.T.
I started a Pride festival in Hay River in 2013. As a teenager, I was the only “out” kid in school. In our community, people really take care of each other. But for such a wonderful place, I faced so much homophobia. I’ve seen that start to change since the festival started. People from outside the queer community are beginning to reach out to us for information and resources.
I’m still new to attending Pride events, so I get super excited every time. It’s embarrassing. I got to travel to NYC for their event last year, and woke up to the news that gay marriage had been legalized in all 50 states. I cried and danced and hugged so many strangers.
Because of those positive experiences, Pride has helped me find my identity, not only as a queer person, but as an indigenous person. It’s shown me that I am resilient and capable. To me, Pride is a way of life. It’s being brave no matter how terrifying homophobia is. It’s coming together and celebrating our differences. It’s defiance. Pride is saying, “You beat us, you harass us, you kill us and we’re still dancing.”