'You take away from Pride when you exclude': first responders throw their own party

Uniformed police are amongst those celebrating an the Unity Festival, a response to Pride Toronto's police ban.

First Responders Unity Festival a response to Pride Toronto's ban on uniformed officers

Uniformed police gathered in Winchester Park on Sunday alongside supporters from the community. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

In response to Pride Toronto's police ban, an independent festival for first responders sprung up in a Toronto park on Sunday.

Organizers of the First Responders Unity Festival encouraged uniformed emergency workers and allies to watch 100 Toronto officers march in New York City's Pride parade on an outdoor screen.

Mayor John Tory, who was in attendance early Sunday afternoon, said Pride Toronto officials and police were in talks to resolve the police-ban dispute.

Mayor John Tory showed up at the Unity Festival on Sunday afternoon. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

But in the meantime, co-organizer Bryn Hendricks took the issue into his own hands.

"For me, Pride has always been about inclusion," Hendricks, who usually participates in Pride events, told CBC Toronto.

"When we start excluding people, lawful individuals and organizations, that's not what Pride has been founded on.

"I feel like we're taking a step backwards," he added. "Everybody's welcome here."

A small number of supporters had gathered for the festival by early afternoon. (Devin Heroux)

Pride Toronto banned uniformed officers from marching in the parade following last year's demonstration by Black Lives Matter, who held up the event and demanded the exclusion of uniformed officers from future events.

Hendricks expressed concern over protesters appearing at the Unity Festival. Organizers had set up pylons and tape to prevent free movement into the festival area.

The First Responders Unity Festival was created for LGBT emergency workers, including uniformed officers, who were excluded this year from the official Pride Parade. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown spoke in support of the event. 

"You take away from Pride when you exclude," he told reporters.

A GoFundMe page created May 22 had raised over $1,800 for the festival as of Sunday afternoon.

With files from CBC's Devin Heroux