Toronto

'It's where we find ourselves': LGBTQ community eager for return of Pride events, parties

As Pride festivities kick off this weekend, many LGBTQ community members say they are thrilled to have a chance to celebrate.

Pride festival weekend now underway in Toronto and community members say they are ready to celebrate

Denise Benson, DJ and author, has not played a party since March 2020. Saturday will be the first time she will be able to bring her combined love for music and passion for queer spaces back onto the dance floor at Cherry Bomb, a monthly party for queer women and friends. (Nancy Kim)

As Pride festivities kick off this weekend, many LGBTQ community members say they are thrilled to have a chance to celebrate.

Many LGBTQ venues were forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic and some community members say these spaces are key, not only to allow people to celebrate, but also to allow people to find themselves. Toronto's Pride parade returns for the first time in three years this weekend.

Denise Benson, a DJ and an author, said she has not worked at a dance party since March 2020. Saturday will be the first time she will be able to bring her combined love for music and queer spaces back onto the dance floor.

"I'm so ready with so much music," Benson told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.

"[I'm] excited to reconnect with everyone on the dance floor."

Benson, along with Cozmic Cat, are the resident DJs for the Cherry Bomb dance party, a monthly party for queer women and friends, at Toronto's Axis Club on Saturday night. 

But Benson said music parties are so much more than just parties — they are integral for queer people to find each other.

"Clubs, social spaces for queer people, it really literally is where we find community," Benson said.

"It's where we find ourselves. It's where we get to lose ourselves. We connect with people. There's flirting, there's fun, there's politics."

LISTEN | DJ Denise Benson talks about importance of queer public spaces:

DJ Denise Benson is "so ready" to bring back the Cherry Bomb dance party Saturday night at Pride.

From searching for community, to finding and helping build it, Marisa Rosa Grant was chosen as this year's BIPOC Pride Ambassador for Pride Toronto. The role recognizes her work in helping create spaces for Queer BIPOC people to feel safe and to be accepted.

Grant, who chooses to go by the pronouns they/them, said this day has been a long time coming.

"We have been waiting [for] so long to finally celebrate again and it's going to be just that," Marisa Rosa Grant told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.

"It's going to be a beautiful celebration."

Grant, who grew up in Brampton, said they came out at the age of 19. They said Pride not only helped them come into their identity at a young age, but also find a community that accepted them for who they are.

In 2019, Grant created "Strapped," a BIPOC-centred event to make people feel represented and accepted. They said holding space for other queer people is crucial.

"To be able to make these spaces where people can just be themselves and dress up, because as queer people we love to dress up and we love a theme," they said.

Members of the LGBTQ community say they're eager to celebrate the in-person return of Pride Toronto's upcoming festival weekend after two years of COVID-19 cancellations. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

Grant said they are "honoured" to be ambassador this year and to be excited for their work to be recognized.

"To be able to receive this award really feels like a sweet full circle moment, from me searching for community, to now finding it and them showing me love by offering me with this title."

But Grant said while the queer community should have a lot to be hopeful for, there is a lot more work to do.

"Toronto is still on its way towards getting to where it needs to be in that representation, but I'm happy to be in this position as the BIPOC ambassador to create those spaces."

LISTEN | Marisa Rosa Grant says they're 'honoured' to be BIPOC Pride Ambassador:

Marisa Rosa Grant, the BIPOC Pride Ambassador, talks about their first Pride, coming into their identity, and making LGBTQ spaces more inclusive for BIPOC folks.

With files from CBC Radio's Metro Morning

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