Etobicoke’s Lakeshore community is set for a colourful makeover this month, as residents and area businesses ramp up preparations for the area’s first ever Pride celebrations. Rainbow flags began to spring up outside local businesses along the strip this week, as the Lakeshore Villages LGBT Community group worked alongside members of the Lakeshore Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) to get ready for the Lakeshore’s inaugural Pride festivities, which will include a full slate of activities throughout the month of June.

The headline event, said Lakeshore Villages LGBT Community founders Jamie Berardi, 22, and Bram Zeidenberg, 25, will be the Go West fundraising dance party on June 15 – the first event of its kind in the Lakeshore area.

“Go West is our first big event where we’re getting entertainment and there will be dancing,” said Berardi, a Humber College public relations student. “We’re testing the waters, because we want to plan a big festival here for World Pride, which Toronto is hosting next year.”

The 19+ Go West event will take place starting at 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 15 at Jay Jay’s Inn, 2847 Lake Shore Blvd. W. A cover charge of $10 at the door covers live entertainment from Chris Tsujiuchi and his five-piece ‘90s tribute band, door prizes donated from local businesses, and food vendors representing Lakeshore area restaurants.

All proceeds from the event, Berardi and Zeidenberg said, will be funneled back into the advocacy activities of the Lakeshore Villages LGBT Community group – which the couple founded shortly after moving to the area back in December 2011.

After experiencing a few unsettling encounters with their new neighbours – the young couple had a beer bottle and eggs thrown at them in two separate incidents along Lake Shore Boulevard, and were told that their hand-holding wasn’t welcome in the Lakeshore in another – Zeidenberg said he and Berardi decided it was time to begin some outreach.

“We began to feel isolated here; we felt targeted and not really comfortable. We didn’t feel that was the general sense in the community as a whole, but we were starting to feel like it was becoming like that for us,” he said. “Then one day we were walking by Birds and Beans (Cafe by the Lake) and we saw a Pride sticker on their window. It was then that we decided we wanted to see more stickers like that, because it really does make you feel welcome – we thought it would create more of a sense of community amongst the gay, lesbian, bi and trans community here on the Lakeshore.”

And so, Berardi and Zeidenberg decided to reach out to local businesses through the Lakeshore Village, Mimico-by-the-Lake, Long Branch Village and Mimico Village BIAs. Through that outreach, there are now more than 30 area businesses displaying rainbow stickers that read “We support the Lakeshore Villages LGBT Community” on their storefronts.

A Facebook page – www.facebook.com/LakeshoreLGBT – initially designed to list local LGBT-friendly businesses in the area now has nearly 250 ‘likes’ and has started a dialogue in the community.

“We just started out with Facebook page to show the gay-friendly businesses in the area, we didn’t think it would turn out to be this big advocacy group,” Berardi said. “But then we started to get demand from people for us to start organizing events and doing more and more things in the community.”

And so they started planning.

After the success of a couple of dog walking and picnic in the park events for the LGBT community in the Lakeshore, Berardi and Zeidenberg began hosting a bi-weekly pub night that turned into a singing success.

From there, they decided this year was the year to plan their first big Pride event – and they weren’t the only ones who thought it was a good idea.

Maria Shaw, co-ordinator for the Lakeshore Village BIA, said the BIA and its business members are “right on board” with their support for Pride. Pointing to the “very big” LGBT community in the Lakeshore – including lots of families – Shaw said it was important for the Lakeshore Village BIA to show its support and come together as a community.

“It’s going to be wonderful for our community,” she said, noting this is the first time Etobicoke Lakeshore will be celebrating Pride. “This year we’re doing some smaller events to show our support of Pride Week and the LGBT community, but we’re hoping that next year we will have a huge World Pride celebration on Lakeshore.”

Seeing their advocacy work with the Lakeshore Village LGBT Community begin to pay dividends, Zeidenberg said, has been a rewarding experience.

“We never would have thought from one rainbow sticker it would have grown to having all these Pride banners and flags put up and seeing the BIA stand behind us,” he said. “In the future, I really see the Lakeshore LGBT community coming into its own. We feel welcome now.”

Added Berardi: “Being here, I finally feel like I’m home. It definitely feels like the community we want to be in and eventually raise a family in. We’ve fallen in love. It’s magical down here by the lake.”

Etobicoke Guardian: InsideToronto.com

ByCynthia Reason