It may be hard to imagine given the success of Pride in Toronto, but there was a time when the LGBT community faced violent persecution and outward hatred in Canada’s largest and most diverse city. Thankfully, these days have passed, but a street art project has been underway to document the often ignored history of the LGBT community in Toronto, and to celebrate the community’s growth and, well, pride.
The Church St. Mural Project started last August after years of planning, strategizing, and permit-applying, successfully bringing 12 murals to various locations up and down the hub of Toronto’s Gay Village neighbourhood. Overall, 25 artists all helped bring the history and success of the LGBT community to the streets for all to see and enjoy.
The murals focus on many different subjects and gay subcultures, from bears and leather culture to the world ongoing fight for the rights of trans people. This being Toronto, the murals are not only about the diversity represented in the LGBT community, but the diversity of the city in general, celebrating the many cultures and people that make up the city. “What is really apparent about this project is it really transcends the LGBT community,” project coordinator James Fowler told Daily Xtra, “It’s diversity but not just within an LGBT construct. There’s a lot of ethnic diversity.”
While many of the murals celebrate the community, they do not shy away from their struggles. One mural depicting Operation Soap, also known as the Bath House Raids, is a prominent mural. Showing a drag queen with their hands up and surrounded by emergency vehicles, the mural directly references Canada’s own version of the Stonewall Riots, where Pride Week got its start and the LGBT began a new wave of their fight for equality.
They also document the community’s long history and famous faces, the people integral to what is now one of the world’s greatest places for LGBT members. A large, 91-foot mural depicts over 50 years of club culture, with references to specific people and places that are important to Church St.’s history. Each person and place was extensively researched for an authentic piece that is wholly Torontonian.
Some murals are more abstract, challenging the ways we think about intimacy between individuals to show that attraction and love do not need to be limited to constructions around gender and sexuality. And many of the murals aren’t limited to paint either. The mural on Church and Wellesley, for example, takes inspiration from South Asian textiles for a mural that, appropriately, honours the queer South Asian community. For “ELLA” at 383 Church St., tiles were the major medium, used to create a ten foot tall mosaic.
Each mural design was carefully selected from countless suggestions by local and international artists, all eager to offer their artistic talent to the local LGBT community. As if a walk down Church St. isn’t already fun enough, especially during pride, these murals add another dimension to the city, reminding the local community of how hard they have fought and exactly why the fight still matters.