Taking place over four days concurrent to mainstream Pride, the indie fest promises underground vibes and zero corporate funding
Pride Weekend is full of unofficial events and parties, but this year queers seeking an alternative are organizing their own festival.
The first annual Alternative Pride Toronto Festival will take place from June 20 to 24 and promises to be an “independent, non-corporate, artist-led music and art festival celebrating queer artists and spaces.”
The party-oriented fest, which does not accept corporate funding, will have more of an after-hours vibe than mainstream Pride. It features 40 artists – mostly house and techno DJs and drag artists – performing at six events, including a villa party at a secret location, Los Angeles DJ Chris Bowen’s Bears In Space party at Stackt Market, a DIY dance garden-themed party in a gallery and a Pride Sunday blow-out at the Baby G.
“Since we are not beholden to the government or corporations, we are able to provide an artistic platform without censorship,” artistic director Aeryn Pfaff wrote in an email, adding that Alternative Pride “aims to promote the notions of love, mutual consent, empathy and understanding.”
A $100 pass for all six events includes express entry. Individual tickets and festival passes are available via the Alternative Pride website. Partial proceeds from ticket sales will go toward Rainbow Railroad, a charity that helps LGBTQ2S+ refugees come to Canada.
As Pride events have grown in scope thanks to corporate funding, alternative events have popped up in cities such as Vancouver, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Berlin to emphasize the movement’s radical roots. Last year, the grassroots queer fest Bricks And Glitter launched in Toronto. Focusing on queer and trans BIPOC talent, the event took place a month after official Pride.
In recent years, Pride Toronto has weathered political controversies over decisions to allow the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to march in the parade and successive bans on allowing uniformed and armed police to march after Black Lives Matter stopped the parade in 2016. Pride’s opaque handling of the police issue led to calls to scale back and scrap corporate funding in the lead up to a chaotic annual general meeting last fall.
“Pride will never be radical. It can’t be,” Montreal-based scholar Florence Ashley wrote in NOW last year. “You can’t take politically loaded stances that challenge the violent arrangement of our social world while receiving big bucks from TD Bank. Corporate money comes with corporate codes of conduct: don’t make too many waves and don’t make the wrong kinds of waves or we’ll take your livelihood away.”
“With funding tied to these complicated relationships and new challenges coming at us every year, it may be time to let go of sponsorships that come with conditions or threats,” city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam wrote in NOW. “Pride has always been strongest when in touch with its political roots and it should not be tied to governments or corporations who will put LGBTQ2S rights and welfare second to popular opinion or marketing campaigns.”
Ironically, Alternative Pride Toronto is launching as Pride Toronto has downsized. After teetering on the brink of insolvency, this year’s festival shifted away from booking big pop stars to focus on indie party DJs and other local talent.