Hundreds attend a downtown block party for members of black LGBTQ communities

A block party in Toronto, designed as a safe space for members of black LGBTQ communities, drew hundreds of people on Sunday because it gave them a chance to celebrate “who they are”, an organizer said.

The event, known as Blockobana, is a one-day festival held at Stackt Market on Bathurst Street near Front Street. The event features music, food and vendors. It started at 12 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m.

Craig Palmer, project manager for Blackness Yes!, a community collective that organizes Toronto Black Pride, said organizers expect around 1,500 people to attend. The event has existed since 2010.

This year, Blockobana was the closing event for the first in-person Global Black Pride, a series of events that brought together members of Black LGBTQ communities from around the world. Global Black Pride coincides with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly known as Caribana.

“What we’re doing today is Caribana for LGBTQ+ people,” Palmer told CBC Toronto ahead of the event. “We’re really looking forward to celebrating in a safe space where everyone can just have fun and really celebrate who they are and their countries and flags.”

Palmer said the event is intended to be “barrier-free” to allow people to be comfortable,

“I always say, ‘Gays have been in Caribana for years.’ We’ve always been there, playing Mas. But it’s nice to have a special place where we can all go and celebrate together as a community, knowing there won’t be issues around homophobia, anti-black racism, transphobia and all those sorts of things,” he says.

The evening was also an opportunity for black LGBTQ artists to show off their talents.

Michelle Asare, an LGBTQ DJ known as Cookie Doh, said the event is important because she identifies with the LGBTQ community and is an extension of Toronto Pride and the weekend. end of the Caribbean Carnival. It’s a safe space for many, she said.

“I feel like it’s a really good thing. They do it every year,” she said. “It’s always a great opportunity for people to go out, children, young people, to listen to good music, to listen to good DJs, to interact, to eat well, to drink lots of water. ”

Asare said it was her first time at the event and she could share her music.

“Twelve years ago there was probably only one place we could play for a weekend, and now every weekend, every month, every year, something bigger and bigger is happening. better. I’m really happy about it.”

“Once it’s inclusive, we’re all in it,” says visitor

And the party caught the eye of some people visiting the city for the Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

US citizens Adrian Brown from New Jersey and Keron Prendergast from Philadelphia came to Toronto for the Caribbean Carnival Grand Parade. They said they felt comfortable at carnival, but they knew not everyone felt that way.

“It’s very important to have events like this so people can go out and be themselves and feel good and just be open,” Brown said.

“Once it’s inclusive, we’re all in it,” Prendergast said.

Natasha Lawrence, community health worker for the Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Center, said the center was offering a rapid, anonymous HIV test in Blockobana on Sunday.

“There are people who look up to us every year and say, ‘I came here because I wanted to get tested by you again this year,'” she said.

Lawrence said there aren’t many safe spaces for members of racialized, African, Caribbean and black, queer and trans communities.

“It’s really important that we can take up space, have a space that’s for us, that’s organized for us, that’s from our experience, that’s a good time. People can come here, be who they are, love who they love and have the experience they are looking for,” she added.

Blockobana ends before Emancipation Day, which will be celebrated on Monday. In 2020, Blockobana took place live on Zoom. In 2021, the event was pre-recorded but also on Zoom.

David H. Henry