11 activists, performers and community members on the importance of Pride 2016

Photography by Lizzie O'Donnell
Photography by Lizzie O’Donnell

Back in the 1700s, Voltaire was onto something when he said “we are rarely proud when we are alone.” This idea remains true for many lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, queer or questioning folk who spend their pre- and post-coming out years dealing with shame. To this day, LGBTQ+ community members around the world have to face harrowing opposition and debilitating self-doubt simply because they do not reflect the heterosexual status quo. So much of their oppression comes from family or friends and often stems from the same religious, cultural or spiritual systems they grew up with.

Pride month—which aims to honor those who have helped us retain civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community—is a beacon for those who can’t do it alone. It is about celebrating the dedicated activism associated with people who have supported, respected, guarded or commemorated the LGBTQ+ community in various ways. As one of the biggest urban centres in Canada, Toronto has a longstanding history with Pride and can be counted as one of the best LGBTQ+ host cities in the world. To date, it has brought in more than 1.2 million attendees. On the heels of this weekend’s inaugural Lesbian, Transgender and Gay Pride Parades, we tracked down a few stylish LGBTQ+ members who speak to the politics and pathos behind this epic party.

Zoe Whittall


On the importance of Pride in 2016:
“Since Orlando, I feel a renewed sense that Pride is important for community building and for celebration and healing, and that it still has a role as a public, political gathering.”

On the most rewarding Pride of her life:
“My ex and I found $100 on a streetcar when we were 22 and too poor to go to Pride, and it was the best day of our young lives. I also remember watching the Hidden Cameras on an outdoor stage, and having many amazing moments at [Toronto’s alternative queer] Vazaleen parties in the early aughts.”

On being proud in the digital age:
“The Internet is definitely helping us get to the next level. It connects people, especially introverts or people who face a lot of potential violence when they leave the house.”

On how the LGBTQ+ world inspires her work:
“I’m a bit obsessed with small town gay bars, and I got to explore that world a bit in [Whittal’s upcoming novel] The Best Kind of People. [The book] focuses mainly on a straight family, but the eldest son is a gay man, and his experience with homophobia and isolation as a teenager informs the story.”

On the biggest challenge facing the LGBTQ+ community right now:
“Transphobic violence, especially against racialized trans women.”

On her pride outfit:
“A sundress with pockets and cowboy boots, the low femme uniform of choice.”

Jeremy Feist
Mr. Leather Toronto 2016
Kink educator and Northbound Leather salesman

His Pride hero:
“American adult film producer Chuck Holmes, the founder of Falcon Studios. Not only was he a huge proponent of celebrating gay sexuality, but also he donated a ton of money to gay causes. Unfortunately, because it was money received from an adult entertainer, few of his beneficiaries ever really acknowledged him publicly for his philanthropy.”

On the importance of Pride in 2016:
“Pride is just as important now as it’s ever been. We can celebrate who we are and the victories we’ve achieved over the last few years, and we can spend just as much time putting the focal point on issues we need to talk about: discrimination against trans people, the senseless violence of Orlando, LGBT people living in countries where violence against them is enabled or outright encouraged by their governments.”

On the challenges of being Mr. Leather Toronto:
“It’s been about redefining how we see gender expression in the male leather community. I tend to present a little more femme… most people get that. But there are still a few holdouts who see embracing femininity as “less than.” I view my gender as a very fluid thing, and embracing the parts of me that are feminine and masculine doesn’t make me lesser; it makes me greater than something binary.”

On his proudest moment so far:
“Last year during Pride, the store I work at—Northbound Leather—was having a meet and greet during the Trans March. We were right on Yonge street, so we had a front row view of everything. A group of protesters came by to spoil everything so everyone in Northbound went over and stood in front of them. We completely blocked them off from the parade and shouted “Love Is Louder” over them. We had someone come up to us the day after saying that they were from a small town, and they’d never had anyone stand up for them like that.”

On his epic Pride outfit:
“I’ll be wearing a leather tuxedo jacket cropped just below the pecs, with a white leather tuxedo shirt and a leather corset. I’m pairing it with a simple pair of high-waisted short-shorts with garters and leggings. And sensible flats. It’s a long parade after all.”

Jordan Alexander
Musician/Singer, Performer at this year’s Pride Stage

The Pride float of her dreams:
“It would include Ruby Rose, Kristen Stewart, Sia, Tegan and Sara, Laverne Cox, Tyler Oakley, Ria Mae, Alexander Wang, Buck Angel, Ellen Page, Cara Delevingne, Sam Smith, Tracy Chapman, Joan Jett, Sir Elton John, Sir Ian McKellen, Oscar Wilde and Freddie Mercury.”

On the biggest challenge for LGBTQ+ youth today:
“Our rights are constantly being denied and our worth and identity constantly being questioned. In the western world we’ve made some progress but people around the world are still fighting for their basic human rights.”

On the benefits of coming out:
“I came out as a lesbian in 2012, when I was 20. You deserve to be happy, and no one has the right to take that away from you. It also weeds out people from your life who suck, if they don’t like you cause you’re gay… you don’t want their friendship.”

On how the LGBTQ+ community informs her music:
“Having a place you feel safe is helpful for being creative—the community offers that. In my song Love & Alcohol [off Alexander’s new album—The Lonely Hearts Club], I wrote a line that goes “but there’s no such thing as the right way baby.” That lyric is definitely inspired by the LGBTQ+ community because I feel like we represent that every day just by being ourselves. Also: I imagine a fabulous drag queen saying that line.”

On her Pride outfit choice:
“Something small and black…anything that goes with my Doc Marten’s. Maybe some glitter too.”

Salah Bachir
2016 Grand Marshal, Activist, Philanthropist, Publisher, President of Cineplex Media

On his Pride hero:
“I don’t believe in heroes and heroines. There are too many people who should be celebrated and who have made a difference.”

On his favourite Pride memory:
“The first time I saw the PFLAG [Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] group marching with mothers and fathers, holding up signs saying, ‘I love my gay son,’ and ‘I love my gay daughter.’ That was about 25 years ago.”

On the most important message PRIDE offers GBLTQ+ youth:
“It’s an opportunity for inclusion, belonging, to have a great time, to learn about worldwide issues. The whole month has been an incredible chance to celebrate who they are.”

On the biggest issues facing LGBTQ+ people today:
“There are still a lot of issues, trans rights, and gay rights as a whole. There’s acceptance to a degree in bigger cities, but there’s still homophobia and people being beaten up. In the corporate world, a lot of the big corporations and banks will march in the parade but it’s hard to find an openly gay person on any corporate board.”

On his epic Pride outfit:
“This is my second time as Grand Marshal, and the second time I’ve had my own float but this year my float will have an Arab theme to focus on gay rights in the Arab world. I’ll be wearing a caftan designed by Hoax Couture with fabric I just bought from Milan.”

On his must-see Pride event:
“Aside from the parade and brunch, I’m looking forward to [Lebanese rock band] Mashrou’ Leila, who are performing on the Wellesley Stage Saturday July 2 and Sunday July 3.”

Gairy Brown
Party and Event Promoter, Executive Director at Prism Festival

On the importance Pride in 2016:
“We need spaces where we could go and be ourselves and this includes dance floors—where so many LGBTQ members meet and express themselves. Pride gives us more options all kinds of scenes. Safe spaces with music that are set aside for the community are so important because they allow you to be the person you were born to be. This may have been affected by the recent tragedy but the community has come together to fight against the fear and the adversity. The fight is still not over for us but we shouldn’t sacrifice our sacred spaces because of opposition.”

On his Pride heroes:
“The late DJ Peter Rauhofer. His music was a celebration of gay culture and his dance floor was always sexually charged. It brought out angst, sensuality and so many feelings we, as a community, tend to suppress. From joy to sadness, his set list gave us a plethora of emotions. The writer James Baldwin also comes to mind. His book Giovanni’s Room made him an advocate for black men in 1960 and 1970s and he was the first to speak out on the objectification of black men. As for my style hero? Grace Jones.”

On his greatest Pride memories:
“There are so many! Aside from World Pride in 2014, I’ll always remember my first party was 1999. It was called Renaissance and featured [New York drag performer] Kevin Aviance at the then-newly opened Government nightclub. Now I’ve done more than 1,000 parties and I’m proud of the fact that I was able to bring every major gay DJ to this country…including Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Honey Dijon, Abel and Danny Tenaglia.”

On getting beyond the idea of the Pride Body:
“We need events that are more inclusive…that are not just about working out for six months so you can get a body to flaunt. Our celebrations shouldn’t be segregated. My parties appeal to a certain demographic—usually men aged 20-45 who have a high disposable income but its changing. I would say 90 per cent of the attendants are focused on getting their bodies fit. The idea of the Pride Body is not outdated… its great to see hot men with their shirts off, celebrating their physique, but, lets face it, Pride should not be just be about that.”

On his epic Pride outfit:
“I just bought some Alexander McQueen eyewear that will have everyone gagging daaaaarling! I’m wearing them at Aqua or Tree House, or at least one of the parties that Prism is doing this year. I also have couple a pieces from Faded—a Toronto-based brand who did clothing for Justin Bieber’s tour—and Rick Owens. I’ve also acquired Comme des Garçons hightops to finish my look.”

Sofonda Cox
Drag Queen


Her Pride Hero:
“Since the inception of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé has driven my career because she continues to push all the boundaries. The first time I did drag was in 1999 and my first look was as Beyoncé circa Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” video. Now, B is applying her platform to political and social justice, which inspires me so much. Her fashion is perfect for drag and the way she dances and performs is beyond.”

On why she decided to drag up Beyoncé’s Lemonade:
“She was shedding light on the black lives matter movement, which means a lot to me since there have been so many unnecessary killings. She’s had enough. Lemonade tells her story. Beyoncé knows her angles, honey. I don’t think her and Jay-Z’s divorce is real at all because she is one powerful woman. Jay-Z would be long gone if he cheated.”

(See the epic performance here.)

On the importance of Pride in 2016:
Tragic events and hateful people have taught us that we must be visible and vocal to make change. Through social media and through sticking together during events like Pride, we can make people understand that we are looking for one thing: love.

Her best Pride memory:
“Flying over a crowd of more than 8,000 shirtless, hot, built gay guys in 2002. I was painted blue and had six arms, made to look like the Hindu god Shiva. They paid $15,000 just to get me into this crazy harness and the whole event cost more than $50,000 to stage at the automotive building at the CNE.”

On the Pride parade float of her dreams:
“I would ride it with RuPaul. She revived and revamped drag for a new generation and made it mainstream. I’m going to audition for Drag Race next year so I hope I make it!”

Her advice to the Gen Z drag queens:
“Get out of my way, girl! Just kidding. I tell these young queens to find what you’re good at and focus on that. I wouldn’t able to win Ms. Czarina at Woody’s, Miss Canada Continental, Miss Woody’s, Miss Zippers, Miss El Convento. Miss Gay Toronto and Miss Gay Universe if I didn’t find myself in my performances. It’s been 16 years so I know how to be myself.”

On this year’s epic Pride outfit:
“Fashion designer Sunny Fong has made it for me… we’ve had two fittings already. I can’t say much about it but it has to do with this full neon drag show I’m doing this Friday at the Sound Academy. Let’s just say it might include a song from Rihanna.”

Stef Sanjati
Youtuber, blogger

On the importance of Pride 2016:
“When Pride first came around, police brutality against LGBTQ+ people was out of control—we were killed every day in Canada. We’ve come a long way. I don’t see PRIDE as a party or a celebration; I see it as reprieve from the war. People don’t realize how politicized our existence is. Trans people can’t just exist because people won’t let us! We have to fight every single day for a space in the world. During Pride, I know I won’t have to.”

On the importance of sharing her journey on YouTube:
“My half a year on estrogen milestone was pretty exciting! Every month, I feel like I’ve reached another milestone, which is why I upload another transition update at the beginning of every month. I hope I can inspire or comfort others who are transitioning by sharing my experience with them—like a sisterhood!”

On how the internet can be a tool for LGBTQ+ advocacy:
“Without the internet, I would never have learned that transition is a possible thing, or that gay people even existed. I think it’s the same for many of us from small towns.”

On her epic pride outfit:
“I’m going to wear whatever makes me happy—that’s what it’s all about. Pride is about celebrating who we are, and for me, clothing plays a huge role in expressing who I am.”

El-Farouk Khaki
Activist, Lawyer, Founder of Salaam, a support group for LGBTQ+ Muslims

On the importance of Pride in 2016:
“It has always been important because Pride has always been political. Violence, discrimination & marginalization are historical and current realities of many LGBTIQ people the world over. In North America, intersectionalities of race, class, dis/ability and SOGI result in Queers and Trans people of colour and Two Spirited people experiencing disproportionate violence and discrimination. Pride is important a remembrance of not just LGBTIQ+ people, but especially black, Latin, indigenous and other POC LGBTIQ+ struggles to get here, a celebration of our achievements, and of our aspirations for the future.”

On the message Pride offers GBLTQ+ youth:
Community. “[Toronto Pride’s official 2016 slogan] ‘You can sit with us’ is an important message. LGBTIQ+ youth do not need to be alone and isolated. Safe, healing and inclusive communities are vital.”

On coming out:
“I had to come out to myself first. Then new friends, then old friends, then family, community and so on. I came out to my parents first when I was 16. I then went back in the closet, and began the journey to out to and embrace myself. I eventually came out to my Mum when I was about 30! I came out because I had to and I could. I had to come out for my own emotional and psychic wellness, and because I felt not telling my parents the truth about such a significant aspect of who and what I am, resulted in an omni-present wall between us. I am not sure it is important for everyone to come out. While I do think that coming out helps people see and understand that we are their family and friends, some may not be able to come out for safety and other concerns.”

On his favourite Pride memory:
Leading the Parade as Grand Marshal in 2009.

On the biggest issue facing LGBTQ+ people today:
“My activism is about intersectionality. LGBTIQ+ people function within a larger context that is riddled with misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, classism, ablism, racism, Islamophobia. We live in a violent world, and in my opinion, the biggest issue facing LGBTIQ+ people is violence, however it manifests: emotional, physical, sexual or spiritual. I see its pervasiveness and impact in my work as a refugee lawyer primarily representing LGBTIQ+ people.”

On his epic Pride outfit:
“Something fabulous. What exactly will depend on how many times I get to the gym between now and then, and the weather. I have a couple of outfits I bought in Cape Town and East Africa. In particular, a purple kitenge shirt and pant combo is high on the list.”

Margot Keith
Hair stylist and makeup artist, Drag Artist, Dj, Model, Muse

On the importance of Pride 2016:
“There are still places in the world and in Canada where LGBTQ+ are not able to live their lives as themselves because of hateful persecution that comes in the forms of small town bullying. Marginalized people of all kinds are still fighting for equal rights and celebrating how far we have come is not just important, it’s a necessary reminder that we have progressed and will continue to.”

On coming out:
“I came out as bisexual at 15. When I volunteered at a gay and lesbian bookstore in Halifax called the Red Herring, it felt as though I was part of something for the first time. I left home and came to alternative school in Toronto where I found more like-minded queer youth and we had the time of our lives. It was so important for me to express my sexual identity because I wanted people to accept me for who I am, not for what they wanted me to be.”

On the idea of having a Pride Body:
“I understand you want to look your best. For some, that means strengthening those thighs and getting a tan, for others it means more pizza and cute outfits. For me, it’s less about obtaining a pride body and more about gaining body confidence. Nothing is sexier than loving yourself.”

On the Pride parade float of her dreams
“I would want jimmy Somerville and Marc almond to do their duet cover of I feel love. I would have local legends Keith Cole, Bruce la Bruce and some of the queens from Hot Nuts so many friends just freaking out in whatever they wanted. It would be a blissful mess!”

On her favorite Pride memory:
“Djing on my birthday with Lady Miss Kier one year and Lady Bunny the next! Dreams actually came true at Pride!”

On her reaction to #HeterosexualPrideDay:
“Nothing is more irritating to me than when straight people ask where the heterosexual pride is. Heterosexual people have not been persecuted for being who they are. We need to remember to love everywhere, love everyone and while I find it hard not to be angry, I try to be patient and have pity for those who are so unhappy with themselves that they will not join the fight for equality.”

On her upcoming epic Pride outfits:
“This year I will be co-hosting Fit Primpin—which means there will be multiple outfits, lots of large wigs and some of my wardrobe involves batteries. I will be going to Hot Nuts on July 2nd and my aesthetic theme is ‘Internet’ so I am having a prosthetic piece made. Pride Sunday is my birthday so I will be in my birthday suit at Hanlon’s Clothing Optional Beach!”

Nick Comilla

On his Pride Heroes:
“Bret Easton Ellis. I love the way his novels can show the full extent of both the good and bad in people. His characters are often times wonderfully sexually ambivalent and fluid, their sexual ambiguity matched by their moral ambiguity. Arthur Rimbaud—because he’s the original twink punk poet. Frank O’Hara, because no poet better captures the fleetingness of the moment with such a particularly queer sensibility. Camille Paglia, because her ability to see the metaphors—and the subtleties—in all cultural expressions is so important… especially in a time when we’re encouraged to only look at the surface of things.”

On the most important message PRIDE offers GBLTQ+ youth:
“That millions of people love and support them and may have been in their place once. That they have more friends and allies than they realize. That it’s not as simple as “it gets better” – that you get stronger, and we’re here for you.”

On coming out:
“At 16, I had to come out to be true to myself and to support others. I also wanted to break down stereotypes. I was into skate/punk culture in my early high school years and it bothered me that gay boys were only seen in this one-dimensional way.”

On how the LGBTQ+ world inspires his new book, Candyass:
“I love that we have our own coded language, our own verbal cues and cadences. My novel is largely about the lives of young LGBT people, so all of the things they deal with come out in the writing. The feeling of being alienated from larger society, of not knowing what direction you’re going in since there is less of a set path, navigating those experiences… There is a lot of confusion and hesitation in those experiences, and that comes out in dialogue, in voice.”

On the pride float of his dreams:
“I’d have Bernie Sanders, Justin Trudeau, Ben Whishaw, all the members of Pussy Riot, Camille Paglia, Lana Del Rey, Sophia Lamar, ANOHNI and Perfume Genius on it.”

On his favorite Pride memory
“This past weekend at Pride in NYC, there were multiple contingents honoring the victims of the Orlando shooting while simultaneously calling for a sensible gun control policy.”

On the biggest issue facing LGBTQ+ people today
“Continuing to shift the public imagination and perception, creating a bigger world that has room for all kinds of sexualities and gender identities, educating and advocating against ignorance and oppression in various forms.”

Aydian Ethan Dowling
Body Builder, Clothing Designer, Trans Activist, Vlogger

On the importance of Pride in 2016:
“Pride month was already more important than past years because of all the Trans Bathroom laws as well as religious freedom laws and LGBTQ+ protection laws being thrown around in the USA. Now—because of the news pertaining to such laws as well as the recent tragedy in Orlando—Pride has rallied more members and more allies than in past years.”

On finding Pride online:
“The internet can be two-faced. You have the bad side of negativity and people trolling others but the fact is, the internet has saved my life time and again. It has made me feel connected to a Transgender community that was almost non-existent in LGBT spaces 6 years ago. It provided me an outlet of my feelings and provided me friendships that have lasted for years.”

On having to come out twice:
“I came out as a Lesbian when I was about 15 and then as a Transgender Man when I was about 22. I couldn’t keep walking around being seen as a woman when I truly knew I am a man.”

On the idea of having a Pride Body:
“Having a Pride Body is pretty much exactly what pride is not about. Pride isn’t about celebrating the body you have worked so hard to get a ripped six-pack or have the most epic bicep peaks—that is what a body building stage and the gym or beach is for. Pride is for celebrating the body you love with, express with, and share with others. The one you either worked your butt off to get to finally feel comfortable in—especially when it comes to transgender people or gender non conforming people—those are, to me, the best Pride Bodies.”

On the Pride parade float of his dreams:
“It would most defiantly be a Lion King related float and I’d share the float with Tiq Milan, President Obama, Ruby Rose, Ellen Degeneres, Laverne Cox and Lady Gaga.”

On his favourite Pride Memory:
“The day the USA received Marriage Equality for LGBT. I thought about all the years we had been fighting for this. All the arguments I have had with others who didn’t get it, all the times I thought about the couples who couldn’t see each other in hospitals, or funerals. It was a big deal then, and it still is today.”

On his epic Pride outfit:
“I will be rocking my Super T[rans] Cape, as well as switching in and out of my Point5cc.com Transgender Pride clothing (the “I AM ENOUGH” tee is by far my favorite). I will also probably rock the bareness of my Top Surgery Scars in pride, and share that awesome feeling with other Transguys!”

On what he is most looking forward to this weekend:
“Meeting Prime Minister Trudeau and being a part of history since this will be the first time a PM is embracing Pride in such a public way.”

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