LGBT Rights and Marketing Toronto to the World

by Robert Furtado

5 min read

Brand, Co-Pilot Story Series, Media, News, PR

When asked to summarize Mayor Rob Ford’s impact on our city’s global reputation, Andrew Weir, VP of Communications at Tourism Toronto, pretends to nervously check his watch. He’s being polite — which is another word for Canadian — and it’s just this sort of attitude that could serve as a metaphor for Toronto’s place in the world. “It’s time to shake off our anxiety and show our swagger; it’s time to recognize that we have something people really want to experience,” says Weir. He doesn’t skip a beat.

It’ll take a lot more than one crack-smoking mayor to reverse this city’s inertia — a city the world is increasingly recognizing as an international model of diversity and LGBT rights. “We are an inspiration to a lot of cities out there. We need to recognize that ourselves. We need to embrace that.”

On June 11, World Pride was the subject of our second Co-Pilot Storytelling Series, an event designed to bring together some of Toronto’s most forward-thinking communicators to discuss topics and trends in effective PR, journalism, brand marketing and digital strategy. And it will be a great example of the marketing Toronto has undergone both here and abroad.

Our theme – Pride is My Co-Pilot – explored how politics, parades, tourism and wedding bouquets are boosting Toronto marketing.

Joining Andrew Weir on our Co-Pilot panel were Kevin Beaulieu, Executive Director of World Pride; Sarah Lilleyman, Editor of Globe Toronto; and Diana Khong, Marketing and Community Manager of the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival.

This June will mark Toronto’s — and North America’s —  first time hosting World Pride.

But, despite all the hotels, galleries and restaurants the celebration will fill, Kevin Beaulieu is careful to acknowledge there’s still no place in the world that’s totally free of homosexual and trans phobia. “We live in a special place, but our city is not a trouble-free zone.”

To Beaulieu, Pride is about capturing Toronto’s complex social dynamics—its many social enclaves, identities, interests and values, and their influence on the city writ large—in a way that’s meaningful, that tells the world what Toronto really is. And this, he says, can be hard to encapsulate in a single marketing slogan.

Diana Khong used the word “synergy,” apologetically, to describe the way major cultural institutions have accomplished just that, bursting open our city’s neighbourhoods and expanding LGBT issues “way beyond the village.”

Meanwhile, at one of our country’s most prominent newspapers, Sarah Lilleyman says reporting of LGBT issues continues to grow thanks to events like World Pride. “If all goes to plan, this could be one of the biggest things the city has ever done.” Last year’s Pride parade drew 1.2 million people. Event organizers believe this June’s event could approach 2 million.

For all our characteristic modesty, it seems Toronto has at least this to be smug about: We do diversity as well as, if not better than, any other city in the world. And that’s definitely something that should fill us all with pride.

The Co-Pilot Storytelling Series is a regular event for Toronto’s passionate communications community. Our next event, on Sept. 24, 2014, will be called Doug Ford is my Co-Pilot: how an infamous mayor changed the game for issues management.

Check out photos from this month’s event.