Annual Pride church service loses its space
Organizers scramble to find workable location for event in lead-up to June’s parade
For more than two decades, Rev. Brent Hawkes has led a church service on the morning of Toronto’s Pride Parade.
In the mid-’90s, Hawkes led Faith + Pride out of Maple Leaf Gardens. He’d bought his first bulletproof vest for the occasion. Last year, he preached at Pride’s South Stage, at Church and Wood Sts., with the prime minister, premier and mayor sitting in the front row. “It’s been a great experience for us down through the years,” Hawkes said.
The pastor and LGBTQ activist is due to retire from the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCCT) at the end of the year. This was to be his last Faith + Pride service.
But a mix-up between Pride Toronto and the MCCT has lost this year’s Faith + Pride service its stage, in favour of several other acts, and sparked outrage from some mem- bers of both the church and the broader LGBTQ community who consider the mix-up a slight.
“It really disturbed me that entertainers were getting priority over Brent Hawkes, who is one of our greatest heroes,” said Douglas Elliott, a human rights lawyer and member of Pride Toronto. “There wouldn’t be a Pride Toronto if it wasn’t for Brent Hawkes.”
Since 1990, Faith + Pride, formerly known as Church on Church, has been a staple of Toronto’s Pride weekend. In recent years, crowds of congregants gathered at Pride’s South Stage, just east of Maple Leaf Gardens.
The South Stage is now ground zero for bulldozers, cranes and other construction equipment. Two massive condo buildings are under construction along Church St, between Wood and Carleton Sts. So, early in 2017, the MCCT began looking for other options.
Initially, the MCCT asked if Yonge-Dundas Square was an option. Pride said no, but offered Allen Gardens in return. The church ultimately turned this spot down.
“We did some careful investigating and looking at the site, and determined that unfortunately, that site will not work for our service,” said Rev. Deana Dudley in an address to the MCCT’s congregation last Sunday. One of their reasons was that Faith + Pride might disrupt Sunday morning services at other churches near Allen Gardens.
“They suggested the Wellesley Stage. And we thought: ‘OK, that’s perfect,’ ” Hawkes said. But the church wanted to be sure they weren’t bumping Blockorama, their neighbours on the stage. The Black-focused music event has a history of being shuffled around Pride, Hawkes said, and the church didn’t want this to happen again in 2017.
Pride initially gave them the thumbs-up, but later changed their answer. Hawkes said it was because events on the Wellesley Stage that day, not just Blockorama, wouldn’t have enough time to cycle through sound checks and other pre-show preparations before their start time.
The church and Pride went back to the drawing board and had a miscommunication over whether the area around a Church St. school was on or off the table. Pride thought the church had rejected it; the church thought Pride had removed it as a possibility.
Amid all this, comments began circulating online about the motive behind the loss of Faith + Pride’s venue. On Wednesday, Hawkes issued a statement that rejected the rumours of an attempt by Pride Toronto to marginalize the church’s involvement in this year’s festival.
“Much of this seems to have taken the form of claims that Pride Toronto had ‘banned’ or ‘excluded’ Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto for various reasons,” Hawkes said of these rumours. “This is simply not the case.”
“People are kind of looking for a reason to call out Pride Toronto on the exclusion plank,” Jane Farrow said. She’s attended the MCCT a number of times, and, while she doesn’t believe Pride is excluding the church, she has heard the discussions about the mix-up.
In the meantime, Pride Toronto said it’s trying to work out a new deal with the church so that Faith + Pride goes ahead as planned.
“We are staying very much in connection with MCC Toronto,” said Ryan Connelly, Pride Toronto’s spokesperson.
The intricacies of planning a massive, month-long festival, culminating in one of Toronto’s largest parades, also means that mix-ups can and do occur.
“It’s the nature of large festival planning,” said Connelly in a sentiment echoed by Hawkes.
“Here’s a Pride organization that has to organize a massive, massive festival while being pressured on all fronts (and) having a shorter timeframe to do that. . . . That’s a massive undertaking,” Hawkes said.
Rev. Brent Hawkes has led the Faith + Pride service at Pride for more than 20 years.