The story of Pride in Montréal

Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

This article was updated on June 8, 2022.

The world’s first Pride marches were held in 1970 to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising of 1969. The Christopher Street Liberation Day march was held in New York City on June 28, 1970, while simultaneous Pride marches were held in San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. 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.

 

The world’s first Pride marches were held in 1970 to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising of 1969. The Christopher Street Liberation Day march was held in New York City on June 28, 1970, while simultaneous Pride marches were held in San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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.

In 2022, Montréal Pride continues to build on its new momentum, spending $125,000 to fund 36 summertime projects by LGTBQ community organizations, notably in Montréal, but also in the cities of Val-d’Or, Saint-Hyacinthe, Chicoutimi, Magog and Sherbrooke. Because Pride is more than just a festival, it is a social mission.

 

 

The 2022 edition also marks the return of the festival’s two Community Days on August 5 and 6. During Community Days, kiosks for the many organizations, community groups and sports teams catering to the LGBTQ communities line the Sainte-Catherine Street pedestrian mall between Saint-Hubert and Papineau streets in the Village, daily from 11 am to 6 pm. This year’s parade will be held on August 7.

The 2022 edition of Montréal Pride also has new dates, from August 1 to 7, which overlap with the 24th International AIDS Conference being held in Montréal from July 29 to August 2.

During the International AIDS Conference, Montréal Pride presents three cultural events: Choreographer Dave St-Pierre’s contemporary dance work Rapture (July 27 to August 6) pays tribute to the millions who have tragically died of AIDS; The exhibition Art, Activism and Resilience explores HIV, AIDS and sexual health (June 12 to September 1); and at the PHI Centre,  INVERSE/THE FUTURE IS OFTEN A STEP BEHIND (June 30 to August 28) is a multigenerational portrait of queer lives by Nicolas Jenkins, the renowned artist who organized Montréal’s famed Sex Garage loft party back in July 1990—remarkable and timely since queer resistance at Sex Garage all those years ago continues to inspire the Pride movement in Montréal today.

Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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