Describing it as a family-like community and a safe haven for self-expression, many people who work and live in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood told Queer & Now that the neighbourhood is invaluable to the 2SLGBTQ+ community. However, some also shared concerns about the neighbourhood, including a lack of diversity. As a result, members of the community have begun to look for, and create, places to celebrate their Pride and live their truth outside of The Village.
Marisa Rosa Grant, also known as Marisa Daddy, is a queer advocate, artist, and powerhouse in the GTA’s queer community. As an active organizer of events designed for BIPOC within Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ community, they explained to Queer & Now why they continue to highlight the importance of queer community inside and outside of The Village.
“Queer community to me is surrounding yourself with people who love like me, and who have different ways of viewing their gender expression and identity. We just seem to come together on being an ‘other,’ being a minority whether visibly or through our sexual identity and sexual preferences, or preference not to engage in sex,” they explained.
Grant shared that throughout their life as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, The Village has often provided a place for them to be themselves. Growing up in the suburbs meant that Grant did not see a lot of gay or transgender representation, and having a space like The Village allowed them to explore their own queer identity while being immersed in a community of other people with similar experiences.
A Lack of Representation in The Village
However, being queer and Black means that despite being in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, Grant did not see a lot of people who looked like them.
“When I enter a lot of these spaces, knowing that they’re white-owned, and the people throwing the events are also white, it also sets the tone that this is not going to be a space for people like me,” Grant said, adding that sometimes they don’t feel safe or seen.
“When I do feel seen, it’s like being seen as prey. As the one Black person in a sea of white people.”
As a Black person, Grant says they began to feel like a rarity within queer spaces, where they often felt tokenized.
“I want to be seen as a person, not as something exotic.”
As a result, in 2019 Grant began independently organizing events for the 2SLGBTQ+ community that provided a safe, inclusive place for BIPOC to express themselves and connect with others. Grant had experience organizing and DJing house parties and corporate Pride events, so they used their skills to start Strapped TO, a collective of queer events hosted at venues across the city.
“I reached out to what was formerly Club 120. They had a date available two weeks from then, and they agreed to let me use the space.”
Creating an Instagram account to serve as a platform for advertising these events, and promoting them to other queer people in Toronto, Grant says they were intentional about the people invited, and the content posted.
“I really wanted to reach BIPOC queer women and queer non-binary folks, and in August 2019 I threw the first Strapped event… and it was so beautiful. I really did not expect or anticipate that I would create this through social media, and just messaging people, adding them, making funny memes centred around my humour and the people I wanted to attend my party.”
The first event included sex toy raffles, drink specials, and live performances, with proceeds going right back to the community.
“Funds went back to support a queer woman in the community who was looking for funds to support her gender-affirming surgery.”
Since that first event, which Grant estimates had an attendance of about 250 people, they have never looked back.
“It was a hit and people kept asking for the next event and since then I’ve kept it going. The pandemic brought additional barriers, but we were able to pivot online and create an even larger community,” Grant shared, adding that this made them realize how needed these queer spaces are.
“We really try to stay connected to community. As much as they need this, I needed it too. I wanted to be in touch with my community and it just keeps growing more and more as we constantly try to find ways to connect.”