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Back to Our Roots turns Pride on its head

Back to Our Roots: Breaking New Ground 2011
Back to Our Roots: Breaking New Ground 2011


Crowds of people spilled onto the sidewalk outside the 519 Church St. Community Center on Sunday for the first ever Back to Our Roots: Breaking New Ground Festival.

The festival, a day-long event of workshops, live DJs, community acupuncture, picnic and performances, featured live ASL interpretation and culminated in a ball. According to the organizers, Back to Our Roots celebrates the 45th anniversary of the Compton Cafeteria Riots and the 42nd anniversary of the more famous Stonewall Riots, both of which sparked LGBT liberation movements in North America.

“Most of them [the riots] were specifically started by racialized and mostly trans and working class people, so people who were street involved, people who were drug users, hustlers. People who today are very much marginalized from the actual movements they helped to begin,” said Syrus Marcus Ware of Blackness Yes! - one of the community groups who’d organized the event.

His words explain why the bodies at Back to Our Roots didn’t look like the typical gay white male Pride bodies. Contrasting sharply with Toronto’s Pride parade, the festival also lacked police and dancing TD Canada Trust boys and corporate banners.

Instead the festival featured arts-based workshops and performances by community groups. The event was organized in collaboration with Blackness Yes! Asian Arts Freedom School, Ill Nana DiverCity Dance Company, Colour Me Dragg, Fruitloopz, Mata Danze, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, Black Coaltion for AIDS Prevention, Pride Coalition for Free Speech and Proud of Toronto.

In light of recent City of Toronto threats to cut Pride funding, Ware noted, “now, more than ever, we need to go back to our roots in Toronto…that's what people were doing back then, people were doing all this organizing without funding, without resources.” 

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