Toronto

More than 2,000 attend downtown block party for members of Black LGBTQ communities

A Toronto block party, intended as a safe space for members of Black LGBTQ communities, drew more than 2,000 people on Sunday because it gave them a chance to celebrate "who they are," an organizer says.

Blockobana intended to be safe space for Black queer people during Caribbean Carnival, organizer says

Natasha Lawrence, a community health worker for Women's Health in Women's Hands Community Health Centre, stands near the centre's booth at Blockobana. The booth offered free rapid anonymous HIV testing on Sunday. (CBC)

A Toronto block party, intended as a safe space for members of Black LGBTQ communities, drew more than 2,000 people on Sunday because it gave them a chance to celebrate "who they are," an organizer says.

The event, known as Blockobana, was a day-long festival that held at Stackt Market on Bathurst Street near Front Street. The event featured music, food and vendors. It began at 12 noon and ended at 11 p.m.

Craig Palmer, a project lead for Blackness Yes!, a community-based collective that organizes Toronto Black Pride, said organizers had expected about 1,500 people to attend, but estimated that about 2,200 in all went to the event throughout the day. He said there were lineups to get into the venue. The event has been held since 2010.

This year, Blockobana was the closing event of the first in-person Global Black Pride, a series of events that brought together members of Black LGBTQ communities from around the world. Global Black Pride coincided with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly known as Caribana.

"What we are doing today is Caribana for LGBTQ+ people," Palmer told CBC Toronto before the event. "We're really looking forward to just celebrating in a safe space where everybody can just have fun and really celebrate who they are and also their countries and their flags."

Palmer said the event was intended to be "barrier free" to allow people to be comfortable,

"I always say, 'Queer people have been at Caribana for years.' We've always been there, playing Mas. But it's nice to have a special place where we can all go and celebrate together as community, knowing that there will be no issues around homophobia, anti-Black racism, transphobia, and all those sorts of things," he said.

The party was also an opportunity for Black LGBTQ artists to showcase their talents.

Michelle Asare, an LGBTQ DJ known as Cookie Doh, said the annual event is important because she identifies with the LGBTQ community and it is an extension of Toronto Pride and the Caribbean Carnival weekend. It's a space that is safe for many, she said.

"I feel like it's a really good thing. They do it every year," she said. "It's always a great opportunity for people to come out, kids, young people, listen to good music, listen to good DJs, interact, eat good food, drink a lot of water." 

Asare said it was the first time she played at the event and was able to share her music.

"Twelve years ago, there was probably only one place that we could play for one weekend, and now every weekend, every month, every year there is something going on bigger and better. I'm really glad for that."

'Once it's inclusive, we are all about it,' visitor says

And the party caught the attention of some people visiting the city for the Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

U.S. citizens Adrian Brown, from New Jersey, and Keron Prendergast, from Philadelphia, came to Toronto for the Grand Parade of the Caribbean Carnival. They said they feel comfortable at carnival but they know not everybody might feel that way.

"It's very important to have events like this so people can come out and be themselves and feel great and just be open," Brown said.

"Once it's inclusive, we are all about it," Prendergast said.

Natasha Lawrence, a community health worker for Women's Health in Women's Hands Community Health Centre, said the centre offered free rapid anonymous HIV testing at Blockobana on Sunday. 

"There are people who look for us every year and say, 'I came here because I wanted to get tested by you again this year,'" she said.

Lawrence said there are not a lot safe spaces for members of racialized, African, Caribbean and Black, queer and trans communities.

"It's really important that we are able take up space, have a space that is for us, that is curated for us, that is of our experience, that is a good time. People can come here, be who they are, love who they love and have the experience they are looking for," she added.

Blockobana wrapped up ahead of Emancipation Day, which was celebrated on Monday. In 2020, Blockobana was held live on Zoom. In 2021, the event was pre-recorded but also on Zoom.

With files from Meg Roberts, Mirna Djukic and Muriel Draaisma

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