Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ community might well be the most diverse in the city. After all, the community embraces every demographic, age group, gender, language, race, ethnicity and religion.
The experts at Pride Toronto know a thing or two about creating welcoming events. It’s among the world’s largest Pride festivals, with more than 2.4 million people expected to attend the 2023 Pride Festival weekend, according to Bobby MacPherson, director of operations.
“We want to share the sentiment that when people look at Pride, they can see themselves in Pride,” MacPherson says.
1. Use inclusive language in promotional materials.
An event statement can help set tone and expectations for a Pride-themed gathering. For example, the Candyland Beach Club at Night social event, taking place at Grand Bizarre Beach Club during Toronto Pride Month in June, uses this phrasing on its registration page:
“Candyland is a queer party for 2SLGBTQIA women that includes trans, nonbinary folks and allies. All attendees should understand and respect that no transphobia, racism, body shaming, discrimination, unwanted touching, bullying or harassment of any kind will be tolerated. We will remove anyone who is disrespectful in any way.”
Event organizers should also reflect the community in promotional visuals, suggests Tania Morano, an advocate for 2SLGBTQIA+ equity and spaces, and owner of event company Toastr Toronto, who is hosting the Candyland event with business partner Chantelle Wright. “Create an environment. It’s in the visuals, it’s in the copy, it’s in how you set up your promotions so that everybody knows that this is a gay thing.”
2. Ensure security helps to create a welcoming environment.
Since entrance security is usually the first interaction guests have with an event, it’s important that personnel are friendly and “have a pulse on queerness,” Morano advises. It may help to have a few community members greet guests at the door even before passing through entrance security.
Security should be trained to approach or de-escalate situations in ways that aren’t homophobic, transphobic or racist, MacPherson adds.
3. Create brave spaces where guests can be themselves.
It’s difficult to define what is a safe space for 2SLGBTQ+ guests because, “conceptually, safety is changing for our community. We can’t really define it. And while we don’t know when things can become unsafe [for an individual], we know when things can become uncomfortable,” Morano says. “Maybe the word isn’t ‘safe,’ maybe it’s creating ‘brave spaces.’ We do our best to make a space that feels like they can bring their authentic selves.”
Morano suggests creating cozy spaces, even in large venues, that feel welcoming. Ensure there are enough brightly lit spaces for guests who need to see what’s going on around them.
Pictures taken at any public event are likely to end up on social media, so it’s important that guests are made aware before they arrive at the event. Pride Toronto creates social media-free spaces during Pride Festival Weekend where photography and filming are not allowed.
4. View your event with an accessibility lens.
Pride Toronto advises guests in advance whether a venue accommodates assistive mobile devices, has ramps, elevators, accessible washrooms, parking nearby and if outside spaces are well lit. The organization also makes ASL interpreters, personal support workers and designated accessibility viewing spaces available at no cost.
Another way to look at accessibility, Morano adds, is to price your Pride-themed event so that it’s affordable to all members of the community, noting that big events like Candyland are priced to start at about $30 per person, however Toastr events usually cost $25 or less.
5. Do your homework and ask lots of questions.
Ask potential venues and service providers whether they have an inclusion statement, anti-discrimination policy or a code of conduct in place, advises MacPherson. Do they prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in their hiring practices? Pride Toronto expects the management teams of venues, AV, catering, entertainment and other event services to take inclusivity training offered by one of its in-house experts. Planners should also research whether venues support the 2SLGBTQ+ community throughout the year, or only host events around Pride month.
6. Tap into the community for expert advice.
Toronto has a wealth of experts to help planners plan 2SLGBTQ+-friendly events, including Morano who’s been in the business since 2007 and offers consultation and planning services through Toastr.
Pride Toronto offers an affiliate events program that helps organizations plan Pride events and, as North America’s largest 2SLGBTQ+ festival, has a large database of resources and vendors to draw upon, including artists and performers.