'We should have the right to party here': Toronto to host first LGBT Black Pride weekend during Carnival
1 event is billing itself as 'the only Caribana fete where you can be yourself'
A lot has changed since Mykel Hall hosted his first Caribana weekend party in 1995.
Just a few years earlier, Hall became the first DJ to regularly host urban music events — think dancehall, soca, and hip hop — in Toronto's Gay Village. Still, as a DJ plying his trade in Toronto's LGBT community, he remembered Caribana as an uncharted and potentially tricky event to break into, due to the Caribbean community's reputation for homophobic attitudes.
"I felt fear when it came to promoting it," said Hall, more commonly known as DJ Blackcat. "I didn't really go to the Caribana festival. I didn't go to those places."
This weekend, 23 years after his first under-the-radar Caribana party, Hall will take part in the Toronto's first official Black Pride weekend, coinciding with what is now called Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival.
The formalized celebration includes eight LGBT-catered events spread across three days, ranging from a family-friendly afternoon block party to a Wakanda-themed club night.
"That's a big jump," said Hall, sitting behind his turntables at Toronto's Club 120. " And I was here for both, so I can see the difference."
Events offer a place to 'be yourself'
Organizers say the Black Pride events will provide the carnival's LGBT attendees with safe, inclusive spaces to celebrate during the busy weekend.
One Saturday night party is billing itself as "the only Caribana fete where you can be yourself."
The Caribbean Carnival draws around two million people every year, but LGBT events have not traditionally been included in the festivities.
"Queer people are in Caribana all the time, the masqueraders, everybody," said Craig Palmer. "We're already there, we're just maybe not as official."
Palmer organizes Blockobana, the LGBT party at Regent Park that will celebrate its eighth anniversary this Sunday. Last year, around 1,200 people attended the event, which featured a set by DJ Blackcat.
"We should have the right to party here … and not just mix in with the crowd at Caribana," said Hall.
Black Pride weekend is not formally affiliated with the Caribbean Carnival, however the event is being sponsored by the city of Toronto, which provided funding through a grant.
Homophobia at the carnival
While Palmer acknowledged that Carnival weekend can include "scattered" moments of homophobia, he says the growth of events like Blockobana will help dispel those fears.
"I think there's a little bit of a misnomer that Caribana is really a homophobic time," Palmer said. "We combat the idea that Caribbean people are innately homophobic, which is not true."
Hall says those fears have greatly decreased since his first days hosting parties geared to Toronto's black LGBT community.
At the time, he said he didn't realize the significance of playing urban music at gay nightclubs, or hosting an LGBT event tied to Caribana weekend. That slowly changed over the years.
"I learned that there was some responsibility to that, and that, 'Yeah, this is a big deal,'" he said.
Palmer credits Hall for pioneering the type of events that now constitute the city's official Black Pride weekend. There are plans to make it an annual event and, eventually, a staple of Carnival weekend.
"We're not there yet," said Hall. "But I'd love to see us get to that spot."