The Shaping & Structuring of Space: The Village (Toronto)

To celebrate Pride Month, this week’s national post considers the Village in Toronto, renowned for its TBLGQ2S+ space in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. It has been home to TBLGQ2S+ communities since the nineteenth century, operating largely as a subculture until the late twentieth century with the ‘decriminalization’ of homosexuality and increase in TBLGQ2S+ activism. In the 1970s and 1980s, TBLGQ2S+ activism “organized around homelessness, LGBTQ issues, HIB/AIDS, education, apartheid, and disability justice, as well as challenged racism and other forms of systemic marginalization and oppression.”[1]

Map of the general location of the Village in Toronto. Credit: “Church and Wellesley,” Wikipedia.

Founded and maintained by TBLGQ2S+ individuals, businesses, and leaders, the Village today marks “political strength and social necessity” to TBLGQ2S+ individuals visiting or residing in Toronto.[2] The street signs have rainbows to identify the area, some crosswalks are painted rainbows, and most businesses fly rainbow flags in their windows. The houses and apartments are of Victorian style, dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Now the Village is home to community centres, parks, bars, restaurants, and stores catering to TBLGQ2S+ communities but open to all.

Since 2000, the Village has been undergoing extreme gentrification, and its local businesses are gradually being pushed out replaced by chain businesses, such as Starbucks and David’s Tea. Many TBLGQ2S+ individuals have moved out of the Village to create new TBLGQ2S+ spaces across Toronto, such as the areas of Pape and Leslieville.[3]

519 Church Street Community Centre, a meeting place of political and social groups since the 1980s. Credit: “Church and Wellesley,” Wikipedia.
Crew & Tangos (Toronto’s largest drag bar) at 508 Church Street. Credit: “Exploring Best LGBTQ+ Neighbourhoods in Toronto,” March 14, 2018, The Julie Kinnear Team.

Many scholars and activists challenge the Village for its whiteness and anti-Black racism.[4] Using interviews with Black queer and trans youth, Rae Daniel Rosenberg (2021) argues that Black queer and trans youth “embody forms of everyday resistance” to “anti-Back discrimination within the” TBLGQ2S+ community by “mov[ing] through and inhabit[ing]” the Village.[5] Syrus Marcus Ware (2017) considers how Black “queer and trans historiographers, critics, and activists” have challenged “the erasure of racialized and Indigenous histories from white trans archives, time lines, and cartographies of resistance.”[6]

In 2016, Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLMTO) halted the Pride parade in Toronto for 30 minutes to hold Pride Toronto accountable for anti-Black racism and to demand the removal of police from Pride events and community spaces. For the complete list of demands (now met), visit “Pride Toronto,” Black Lives Matter – Toronto and BLMTO on Twitter.

Photo credit: Desmond Cole, “Pride has Divorced Blackness from Queerness: Cole,” July 7, 2016, Toronto Star.

The whiteness of TBLGQ2S+ history and space has been, is, and needs to continue to be addressed, challenged, and rewritten to include the crucial roles and histories of Black and Indigenous TBLGQ2S+ activists and individuals. For the future, Ware suggests that “we start with a black trans and queer history as a way to orient us toward different pasts and future,”[7] for by centring Blackness and Indigeneity in space and academia does the full story of TBLGQ2S+ activism and spatial occupation rise to the front.

– Catherine Ramey

[1] Syrus Marcus Ware, “All Power to All People? Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto,” Transgender Studies Quarterly 4, no. 2 (May 2017): 174.

[2] Catherine Jean Nash, “Toronto’s Gay Village (1969-1982): Plotting the Politics of Gay Identity,” The Canadian Geographer 50, no. 1 (2006): 1-16.

[3] Paniz Moayeri, “Toronto’s Gay Village: Built-form as Container for Social Heritage,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada / Le Journal de la Société pour ‘étude de ‘architecture au Canada 44, no. 2 (2019): 12.

[4] Rae Daniel Rosenberg, “Negotiating Racialised (Un)Belonging: Black LGBTQ resistance in Toronto’s Gay Village,” Urban Studies 58, no. 7 (2021): 1397-1413; C. Nero, “Why are Gay Ghettos White?” in Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, eds. E. Patrick Johnson and Mae Henderson (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 228-245; Rinaldo Walcott, “Black Men in Frocks: Sexing Race in a Gay Ghetto,” in Claiming Space: Racialization in Canadian Cities, ed. Cheryl Teelucksingh (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007), 121-133; Moayeri, “Toronto’s Gay Village,” 3-20.

[5] Rosenberg, “Negotiating Racialised (Un)Belonging,” 1398.

[6] Ware, “All Power to All People?” 170-174.

[7] Ibid, 170.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: