Church and Wellesley gets colourful as World Pride kicks off

A 10-day international celebration of human and LGBT rights has begun in Toronto, where people from around the globe are expected to attend World Pride events.

From black and white to rainbows

A gay pride rainbow surrounds a bank ATM in Toronto's Church and Wellesley gay village district. (John Rieti/CBC)

Anticipation for World Pride is building in Toronto's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood.

Sidewalks on some streets have been converted from black and white to rainbows. Bars gussied up patios and hung extra decorations. And almost every one of the businesses on the block — from pizza spots to banks to tea shops — have put out signs showing their support.

There’s even a rainbow TTC bus.

"It’s amazing," said Peggy Ward, who stopped to take a picture of gay rights mural on Wellesley Street East.

Ward, who is involved with the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto -- a longtime supporter of the city’s LGBT community, said it’s been deeply gratifying to see rainbow decorations across the city for World Pride.

People walk past a gay pride wall mural in Toronto's Church and Wellesley gay village district on June 20, 2013. (John Rieti/CBC)

"I think what you’re seeing is that as acceptance grows, these groups, like businesses and churches, want to be a part of it," Ward said.

The annual event, which has grown to become two weekends this year due to World Pride, is one of the biggest events on Toronto’s party calendar.

But Christepher Wee, a Vancouverite who is this year’s Mr. Gay Canada, said Pride Week is more than the parties and parades.

"It’s really about building a community," Wee said.

Rainbow colours festoon a Pizza Pizza restaurant in Toronto's gay village on June 20, 2014. (John Rieti/CBC)

For the LGBT community, he said, Pride Week is akin to a major political summit, or even the Olympics. If you look beyond the busy patios and packed bars, you'll see intense political discussions taking place, he said.

As a schoolteacher, Wee says one of his main interests is creating safe spaces for his Canadian students.

There is still, he said, "a long way to go."

A sign marks the Church-Wellesley gay village in Toronto on June 20, 2014. (John Rieti/CBC)

Christopher Olwage, a New Zealander who was named Mr. Gay World last August, said while Pride celebrations are widely accepted, society needs to guard against the "woes of complacency."

To Olwage, that means both sticking up for LGBT people in countries where they’re oppressed, like Uganda, and continuing to fight for equality in countries where gays are accepted but are treated differently.

"There’s always a fight to be had," Olwage said.

Rainbow colours adorn a building at Church and Wellesley Streets in Toronto's gay village on June 20, 2014. (John Rieti/CBC)