By Isabella Keats
June is pride month and after two years of lockdowns, Pride is finally in-person again! Pride month is a time of uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, celebrating culture, LGBTQ+ rights, and feeling a part of a family. During the month of June, there is a mix of parades, wellness zones, marches, drag performances, and art installations all around the city. There are also memorials and celebrations of life held for community members who lost their lives during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While Pride may feel like one big party, there are key events in history that got us to where we are today.
Here in Toronto, we’ve had our Pride month for 41 years. Every year there is a different theme. These themes tend to educate and reflect on how far Pride has come. In 2019, it was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that happened in New York City, in 2018 it was 35 Years of AIDS Activism, and in 2017 the theme was “+” a symbol to represent the diversity and perspectives in the community.
So, what was the event that caused Toronto Pride month? On February 5, 1981, Toronto police raided four bathhouses in downtown Toronto; The Barracks, The Club, Richmond Street Health Emporium, and Roman II Health and Recreation Spa. A bathhouse was a place where gay men could congregate and relax, and be in an environment without stigma. This event ended in the arrest of 306 men and is the second-largest mass arrest in Canadian history. The names of every man arrested were published to the public by the police, destroying multiple lives. This event is now known as “Operation Soap.”
The next day, a massive demonstration was held at Yonge and Wellesley, a population of hundreds of Toronto LGBTQ+ people and allies showed their support for the victims and closed the street. Pride Day Toronto was legally incorporated and by June 28, 1,500 people were able to celebrate Pride Day at Grange Park. Despite the atmosphere being incredibly politically charged, the day was still a time to celebrate.
Pride has come a very long way. The first march had 1,500 people and now we have over 1.2 million people attending each year, with some people even coming from outside the Greater Toronto Area. On July 1, 1984, Church Street was closed for the first time and people danced in the street. Since then, it has become a tradition for the Pride March to always take place along Church Street. Pride month is a time about finding community and being proud of who you are; nevertheless, we should continue to recognize LGBTQ+ voices 365 days a year.