Caribana is one of the city's most over the top, bright, beautiful and joyous festivals. It takes over the city's waterfront, bars, party spaces and parks with music, community, food and music and it stands up with Pride as one of the largest and loudest festivals Toronto hosts. Where it doesn't stand up with Pride is its inclusiveness and overall love-fest vibe.
While thankfully there's been no documented acts of homophobia or violence that I could find, the LGBT community has historically and generally felt uncomfortable attending major Caribana events, including the parade.
Celebrating Trinidad and Tobago, St.Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaican cultures can be a tricky balance as historically many of these places aren't so gay friendly.
Having said this, I've attended the parade with an army of gay guys and gals multiple times and felt no threat or tension. It was a hot time. It's the weekend's affiliated nightlife that's proving problematic.
Promoters and DJs like Blackcat, Craig Dominic and Bambii are changing that. Blackcat has been throwing parties like Urban Jungle during Caribana weekend for years now, and the lack of official inclusion in Caribana programming doesn't bother him.
"I don't know if we're being ignored," he says. "Speaking for myself I haven't tried bringing [the parties] to that forum because I personally don't have the strength to take it on. It's not welcome there and it will bring a lot of problems you have to be ready for."
"It isn't going to benefit us. I've never introduced it to the Caribana people... we just do our parties and put it out there and hopefully people see it and know that it exists."
DJ Craig Dominic, main organizer of Blockobana, believes official organizers don't even know their parties exist and is of a similar mind.
"Blockobana is important because we are trying to build it into the cornerstone of an [unofficial] 'Black Pride...'" he says. "Originally it was started as a celebration of Caribana for the LGBT African/Caribbean diaspora community in Toronto, much for the same reason, to give impetus for a Pride for the Black community.
"I'm hesitant to say anything along the lines of 'making Caribana queer' because I think Caribana has pockets of queerness already. If anything we make Caribana more queer and give people another place to display that."
Though Caribana couldn't be reached for comment, I did manage to get ahold of Cara Galloway, Manager of Communications and Events with CaribanaToronto.com the website that promotes, hosts and sells tickets to a variety of Caribbean nightlife events taking place throughout Caribana weekend.
They're not officially associated with Caribana, but Galloway was happy to talk about LGBT inclusion as she sees it at events she's dealt with.
"I can tell you that we have seen a growing sentiment at our events, in terms of a willingness to be all-inclusive," she says. "While it's true that homophobia can be found anywhere, we have found that the past few years have brought on more of an openness and willingness towards being inclusive."
"I have been managing nightlife events on the website for the past four years, and I have never once received feedback or concerns about party goers at any of our events feeling excluded in any capacity."
Galloway says that as an events organization they constantly aim to make all party goers feel as safe as possible. "The inclusion of everyone, all races and sexual orientations, is one of our top priorities," she says.
Because I wasn't able to reach Caribana for comment, it's hard to say where the festival officially stands on LGBT inclusiveness and safety, but having spoken to the people that were available, there's room for optimism. Queer people will attend and queer parties will happen, whether Caribana approves of it or not, and that's what's so cool.
"We get an influx of U.S. and international visitors at that time so it naturally became a time where Toronto's LGBT black community show's up," says Blackcat. "I think the parties are vital and important not only at Caribana time but all year around.
"There needs to be a presence of diversity in the LGBT community in Toronto. [We're] known as a diverse Metropolis and the LGBT community is no different. There are many different types of people and cultures and they should all be represented and celebrated."
Photo by Alejandro Santiago.
by Phil Villeneuve via blogTO