Pool Parties, Panels and Parades: Pride Toronto Expands to All of June

June brings longer days, the official start of summer and a popular opportunity to celebrate Canada’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Now, for the first time ever, the city of Toronto will see an entire month of Pride parades and programming.

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The inaugural Pride Month is a collaboration between the City of Toronto and Pride Toronto — the organization behind the massively attended (and Square-supported) 10-day Pride Festival traditionally held at the end of June.

“This is a huge accomplishment for both the city and the Pride Movement,” says Pride Toronto’s director of operations, Ben Freeman. “We are the first city in Canada to have the month of June declared Pride Month.” The occasion was marked on June 1 with an official proclamation and the raising of the Rainbow flag at Toronto City Hall.

The group’s success in winning over the city is even more impressive when viewed in light of Pride Toronto’s origins, which were sparked by the now infamous February 1981 bathhouse raids, which led to the arrests of hundreds of gay men. “Anxiousness and fear of outings and firings, combined with uneasiness, led to the country’s largest gay rights demonstrations,” explains Ben. “Community organizations saw massive growth in numbers and collaborated with black and immigrant communities to demand police accountability.”

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Today, Pride Toronto includes a range of events throughout the year in addition to the annual June festival. Besides the recent recognition by the city and expanded time frame, this year’s festival promises to be extra special. Program highlights include a free outdoor screening of Mean Girls, an evening with George Takei and a transformation of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada into “the AQUEERium.” There will also be pool parties, art fairs and panels throughout the month. The celebration of LGBT history and culture culminates on July 3 with the Pride Parade beginning at the corner of Church and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto. Dancing in the streets is strongly encouraged.

It’s no easy task to plan festivities for a week, let alone a month. A volunteer-driven organization, Pride Toronto relies on 1,500 people each year. “Ensuring we have all those people recruited and trained is always a daunting task,” says Ben. “It takes the combined effort of Pride Toronto’s staff and board.”

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It also takes Square. Pride Toronto signed up in 2015 when they were looking for a new point-of-sale system. Soon Ben found Square, and after a quick demo, he decided to switch from the analog payment system they’d been using. Since then, his experience and overall customer response has been so positive that Ben has referred Square to a number of other businesses and organizations.

Pride Toronto uses Events by Square to set up and run payment collection at multiple locations throughout the festival, with numerous Square stands at each location. “I like the user-friendly backend technology and reports, specifically the sales reports I can see in real time,” says Ben. “We can see what areas are busy and send more volunteers to them to ensure the best experience for festival attendees.”