Those marches inspired LGTBQ+ activists around the world to organize Pride marches of their own, including Montréal’s very first Pride march in June 1979, organized by La Brigade Rose, to mark the 10th anniversary of Stonewall. La Brigade Rose organizers drew 52 marchers in 1979. Forty years later, in 2019, total attendance at Montréal Pride was 3.4 million.
Pride celebrations were a spotty affair in Montréal until Divers/Cité was co-founded by Puelo Deir and Suzanne Girard in 1993, directly inspired by queer resistance to the violent Montréal police raid on the historic Sex Garage loft party in the early hours of July 15, 1990. That raid ignited 36 hours of clashes between Montréal’s LGTBQ+ community and the city’s police force, which at the time harboured a culture of homophobia. Sex Garage is now widely considered to be Montréal’s Stonewall: it brought together anglophones and francophones, and politicized a generation of LGTBQ+ activists who would change the Québec political landscape.
Divers/Cité drew 5,000 people in their first year. As their little Pride parade and festival grew, so did the Gay Village, as Montréal became one of the world’s great queer destinations. In fact, the summertime Sainte-Catherine Street pedestrian mall in the Village was a hard-fought Divers/Cité innovation. The now-defunct Divers/Cité (it folded in 2015) got out of the Pride business in 2007 to become a queer arts festival. That same year, Montréal Pride was created to rescue Pride.
Montréal Pride has since become the largest Pride in the francophone world, and is a vocal supporter of struggling LGTBQ Pride organizations overseas. In 2019, on the 40th anniversary of Montreal’s original Pride march, Montréal Pride established the Prix John-Banks to honour those who have contributed to the advancement and rights of the LGTBQ communities. Fittingly, the first recipient was legendary activist John Banks, who founded La Brigade Rose, which organized Montréal’s very first Pride march in 1979.
“To watch how Pride has grown in Montréal since our first march in 1979 — when we had 52 marchers — makes me incredibly happy,” says Banks. “I remember when Divers/Cité took over running Pride in 1993. I stood on a street corner and watched all those thousands of marchers. I was so overcome, I cried. When I was a young man, I never thought I’d see that in Montréal. So I am very proud of what we have accomplished.”
Many decades later, Pride remains a crucial stepping stone in the coming-out process.
Montréal Pride has also adapted to new challenges: as the Reclaim Pride movement revolutionized the Pride circuit in 2021, and retro Pride marches came back into vogue, compounded by the politics of inclusion and representation in the wake of Black Lives Matter and the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, Montréal Pride harnessed the new queer zeitgeist with its hugely popular retro Pride March, drawing a new generation of LGTBQ+ youth.
The full parade returns for the 2023 edition of Montréal Pride which runs from August 3 to 13.