Ontario Pride events suffer due to budget cuts and hate-driven behaviour

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Published June 20, 2024 at 5:18 pm

Ontario Pride events suffering due to budget cuts and hate-driven behaviour

Pride can mean a lot for many Ontarians, as it’s a season for celebration and recognition within the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

However, as the cost of living crisis continues to smother festival budgets and hate-driven activity increases, there is an undeniable tension in the air for the upcoming 2024 Pride season. 

There’s a Pride celebration in nearly every municipality in Ontario, which has resulted in a vast network of homegrown artists, sponsors and vendors who contribute to the overall identity of queer festivities throughout the province. 

For Pride London, the upcoming slate of activities is looking to build on what has been established in years past. 

Candice Lawrence, co-chair of Pride London’s committee, has never missed a Pride event in London. The first march was back in 1991 and, for Lawrence, Pride’s presence in the southwestern Ontario city has been in a perpetual state of change as community needs are often shifting.

This year, Lawrence has tasked herself with bringing queer history to the forefront of Pride London by utilizing the people who’ve lived through it the longest. 

“Down the road, the other co-chair and I plan to interview some older community members and get down some local history on their coming out. It’s quite different now than it was when a lot of our community came out in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” Lawrence told insauga.com 

With such an expansive history with Pride, Lawrence has also been able to see, in real time, how aggressions toward London’s queer community have evolved over the last few decades.

“We usually have our little parade of haters who show up to our Pride events. However, it doesn’t seem like it used to be,” said Lawrence. 

While the degree of hate speech impacting London’s Pride festivities may have diminished, Lawrence is not shy to mention that it’s the fuel behind what’s left of it that is the most concerning. 

“The hatred seems to be renewed by what is going on south of the border. There are just so many states in the U.S. banning gender-affirming care for trans people, and just last year we had a lot of people show up at libraries where drag queens were reading stories to children,” said Lawrence. “These people want to make everything so sexualized, but for something like drag story time — where performers are dressed like grannies — I don’t understand why they choose to focus on that.” 

Beyond blockades of bigotry and misinformation, there is also another shadow threatening Pride events in the province — and that’s funding.

According to Lawrence, Pride London’s cheque book has, luckily, been impacted only slightly as certain large-scale donors have downsized their donations by noticeable, but not severe margins. 

As for larger-scale Pride events, such as Pride Mississauga, city officials were quick to dismiss any impact from outside variables, ensuring this year’s Pride celebration (which coincides with Mississauga’s 50th anniversary) will be bigger and better than ever. 

That’s primarily because this is the first year Mississauga Pride is getting direct funding from the city itself. 

“For the first time, the City of Mississauga is sponsoring our Pride partners,” city officials told insauga.com via email. “We work closely with our partners, the Rainbow Sauga Alliance, to ensure the city is offering appropriate activities that recognize and celebrate this important month… Pride is one of the significant dates that Mississauga council has committed to recognizing and celebrating every year for the foreseeable future.”

However, the story is quite different just down the QEW as Pride Hamilton has been scrounging to put all it can into a festival worthy of its community and attendees. 

“While turnout has grown year over year, unfortunately there have been sponsors who, because of the pandemic or other reasons, have shut down. Even larger sponsors with more financial capabilities, we’ve seen their support decrease as well,” Kiel Hughes, director of events for Pride Hamilton, told insauga.com. 

Hughes cites that alongside post-pandemic blues that caused many businesses to curtail sponsorship, the cost of living crisis that came after has been playing a much bigger role in acquiring event sponsors. Beyond financial strain, much like in London, the risk of aggressive behavior from individuals or hate groups is also ever-constant. 

However, unlike London, the issue is not shrinking.

“Hamilton, unfortunately, has the highest rate of hate crimes per capita in all of Canada, so we have had our fair share of violence and aggression towards the 2SLGBTQ+ community. We understand that due diligence is an important aspect of planning large-scale events, and for me it is important because I have been assaulted due to my identity on more than one occasion,” said Hughes. 

As a result, Pride Hamilton has had to allocate additional funding from its already strained budget to security. This is no mere drop in the bucket as, according to Hughes, the security budget will nearly double (they anticipate the new budget requirement to be $40,000 or more).

“We, unfortunately, have had a memo shared to us from CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) in regards to making sure that we do take additional steps for security as they are witnessing certain online activities,” said Hughes. 

In the wake of increased security risks for the queer community, the federal government distributed $1.5 million to Pride organizations last year to better support protective measures.

Hughes said that funding is in place again this year and in 2025. However, even with such financial support, Hughes not only fears for the future of Pride Hamilton, but also the state of Pride across Ontario.

“It does show that this is an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.”

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