WorldPride 2014: International gay rights takes centre stage
As visitors from around the globe descend on Toronto for WorldPride 2014, special attention will be placed on international gay rights.
The 10-day event will include the WorldPride Human Rights Conference, which takes place Wednesday to Friday at the University of Toronto. Jay Katz, the LGBT Giving Network co-chair, says the conference will provide a unique opportunity for dialogue about human rights around the world.
"It's important now because so much has happened in the past couple of years,” Katz told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “We’ve had the (anti-gay) laws in Uganda, we've had gay marriage on the agenda in the United States, we’ve had the (anti-gay) laws in Russia," he said.
In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay bill that punishes sex between homosexual couples with maximum sentences of life in prison. The bill was signed as many demonstrators around the world protested a Russian law that banned pro-gay "propaganda" that could be accessible to minors. The protests took place ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
"Acceptance is a long, long ways away in many countries where pride parades and marches aren't even considered,” Pride Toronto co-chair Sean Hillier told CTV Toronto on Saturday. "A very large aspect of this festival will revolve around human rights, and we will continue to see that moving forward."
He added that in 11 countries, homosexuals can be sentenced to death for being gay.
And while Canada is considered one of the more progressive countries when it comes to gay rights, some say there are still cases of injustices that happen in some communities.
"I remember in Kitchener, (Ont.,) there was an episode where two women kissed and they were thrown out of a restaurant," a WorldPride attendee told CTV News.
This year's festival is expected to draw around two million visitors from across Canada and around the world. Many Torontonians are also expected to take part in the festivities, including teenaged twins James and John Fahardo, who recently moved from the Philippines to Toronto, where they immediately came "out."
"The thing is we weren’t even out in the Philippines. It's very conservative there and here everything is out in the open, so fun," one of the brothers told CTV Toronto. "You can be yourself. It’s awesome."
WorldPride 2014 kicked off on Friday with a rainbow flag raising ceremony at Toronto's city hall. It was attended by Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay premier of Ontario, and Gilbert Baker, who created the multi-coloured flag in 1978.
WorldPride will conclude next Sunday with a Pride Parade.
With a report from CTV News' John Vennavally-Rao and CTV Toronto's Collin D'Mello