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Looking back at WorldPride 2014: honouring the past, celebrating the present

Delegates from around the world gathered to analyze, reflect and strategize for a better future

Assistant Professor Shelley Craig prepares to throw out the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays game during WorldPride 2014

Not every University of Toronto professor gets a chance to throw a pitch in the Rogers Centre, with thousands of baseball fans watching.

But Shelley Craig, an assistant professor in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, was given that honour, as she threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Toronto Blue Jays played the Chicago White Sox last week. She acquitted herself well, she says.

“I was super nervous with the pitch but at least it wasn't short (it went over the catcher’s head).”

Craig’s pitch was in honour of WorldPride 2014. She is co-chair of Pride Toronto, and the Blue Jays, along with the rest of the city, were celebrating WorldPride, which took place June 20-29.

WorldPride is an annual celebration that brings people together from around the world to honour the past, celebrate the present, and inspire a better future for LGBTTIQQ2SA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, and allies) communities around the world, Craig says.

This marks the first time the event has ever been held in North America, and it's estimated more than one million people joined in the celebration, among them many members of the University of Toronto community. Students, faculty and staff marched in the main parade, as well as the trans and dyke marches, or ran in the Pride and Remembrance Run. U of T hosted a Pride Picnic, Pride Pub and various panel discussions and other events.

U of T also hosted the WorldPride Human Rights Conference, a three-day gathering of hundreds of delegates from around the world who came together to share stories, build strategies, and engage in dialogue on issues such as LGBT refugees, approaches to HIV/AIDS, empowering youth and trans activism. The conference was co-chaired by Law professor Brenda Cossman and Doug Kerr, who teaches non-profit strategy part-time at U of T.

Angela Hildyard, U of T’s vice-president for human resources and equity, welcomed delegates to the conference. Speaking at the first of three public plenary sessions, Hildyard noted the university’s long-standing support for diversity and its history of involvement with Pride.

The plenaries featured speakers such as Iceland’s former prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (pictured at right), Nobel Peace Prize nominee Frank Mugisha from Uganda, and Russian-American activist Masha Gessen. Thousands of people attended the plenaries, which were held at Convocation Hall and the Faculty of Music’s Macmillan Theatre.

There were several presentations from U of T faculty and students at the conference. For example, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) professor Heather Sykes and her students Muna-Udbi Ali, S. Itani and Chandni Desai discussed homonationalism in sport, education and the military; Political Science doctoral student Michael Pelz gave a presentation on how LGBT rights vary considerably in European countries; Anthropology graduate student Nora Celeste Pang discussed the difficulties LGBT elders face in care facilities and Kinesiology professor Caroline Fusco spoke about the need for physical education teachers to be more aware of LGBT students and their particular needs.

Cossman, director of University College’s Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, says the conference exceeded her wildest expectations. “We had over 500 delegates – even though we had planned to cap registration at 400, we just couldn't – and close to 1,000 at the plenaries. There was such a sense of excitement and engagement and urgency that literally spilled out of the sessions and into the hallways.

“One of the highlights was the pride flags hanging on University College!”

Cossman, a professor in the Faculty of Law renowned for her scholarship in gender and sexual diversity studies, said the participation by delegates from Uganda – which recently passed an Anti-Homosexuality Act – was especially memorable. “Their sessions, their participation in the plenaries, and simply their presence throughout the conference was such a source of inspiration for so many of us. It was challenging to get them here – but it was worth every ounce of that effort and more.”

Craig said being involved with WorldPride dovetailed nicely with her own research, which is in understanding and promoting resilience-based health interventions for queer youth. She was able to handle the extra responsibilities entailed by WorldPride because of timing: “Fortunately, the bulk of this position takes place during the summer, when my focus tends to be on research and writing and the teaching load is reduced.”

Nevertheless, both Craig and Cossman are looking forward to some time off now the million plus Pride participants have gone home. And both are proud of U of T’s involvement in the festival.

“I find it very inspiring to be part of such an engaged and progressive university community,” Craig said.

(See a photo gallery of images from WorldPride.)

Terry Lavender is a writer with University Relations at the University of Toronto.