A week before the official pride parade, with its big rainbow flags and expensive floats, another queer festival in the west end is showing its true colours.
Queer West Fest, a volunteer-driven alt-event in the Parkdale area, shifts the focus from Church/Wellesley to a more grassroots approach. Last week it featured a community fair, bike ride and events bringing artists and queer-friendly businesses together.
"Pride is all about the big floats. It's the muscle boys in tiny clothes. It's become an opportunity for the city to make money,' says singer Shean Carmichael of Ra:tio, one of the bands that played at QWF's June 15 opening-night party.
While this is the first year the festival has gone under this name (last year it was called Parkdale Pride Party), Pride festivals have been going in the west end for a decade or so. And it seems that Pride Toronto, having caught on that the west end is the place to be, is holding some of its own events at the Drake and Gladstone Hotels.
But QWF organizers say they were not approached as a community partner. "You'd think they'd want to work with us. We were quite upset," says event founder Michael Paré.
Bryen Dunn, another organizer, notes that while the vibe in the Church-Wellesley village is male-dominated, Queen West is much more mixed. "It's not just that we have more lesbians here; we also mean 'queer' in the sense that things are much odder here," he says.
But Pride Toronto co-chair David Anderson contends they have tried to engage QWF in the parade several times over the years. " We've been criticized for centring on the downtown. Now that we're trying to diversify our sites, we're still getting criticisms.'
Rikki Reeves, a drag queen in the west village community for 12 years, says festivals like QWF are becoming more important because they're less gay-focused and more about entertainment and diversity.
"It's a big change when an art gallery that is queer-focused isn't even run by a gay couple, but by a straight person," she says.
However, Fawn Big Canoe, owner of the Queenshead Pub at Bathurst and Queen, says that while her bar now attracts "20-something fashion fags and adorable dykes," she's not sure the neighbourhood has really accepted gays.
"You're still going to be subjected to people pointing out that 'those chicks are kissing,' or that 'those two dudes are fags' on Queen West and in Parkdale," she says. "At least on Church Street it's a quick stumble to the next bar if you do happen to get hated on."