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A Very Gay Comparison of London vs Toronto

I would say out of all the places I have visited, I have only ever truly grasped the feeling of queer culture in two places: London and Toronto. This is because I have lived in both places long enough to experience the LGBT scene in its fullness. I haven’t just been to a few gay bars, nor only visited each place for Pride, but I have been in both places long enough to know how it really feels to be gay in each place.

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Bars/Clubs

El Hunt / Via diymag.com

It has to be said, London definitely has a far wider range of LGBT friendly pubs and clubs. While Toronto does have the advantage of one street, Church street, holding most of the gay clubs and bars, those venues are limited. Often quite small and pretty much only catered towards gay men, they lack the diversity that many LGBT venues in East London have.

From Vogue Fabric in Dalston, to Bar Wotever in Vauxhall, London offers something new and interesting pretty much every night of the week. Drag queen (and king!!) performances, as well as more Avant garde queer shows take place at various venues around London. While London’s queer scene is very much spread out across the whole city, Soho still remains at the centre for queer nightlife.

Even the more “tacky” clubs such as Heaven, G-A-Y and Ku Bar always have a great energy about them, with a variety of themed nights guaranteed to keep you entertained throughout the work-week as well as the weekend. Personal favourites include: Porn Idol on a Thursday at Heaven, Ku Bar’s Ruby Tuesdays, and of course, the absolutely amazing £2 drinks deals at G-A-Y which runs through Thursday to Sunday (if you have lived in London for any period of time at all you will understand how magical it is to pay only £2 for a beer in Soho).

It is also worth mentioning that London is the home of one of the world’s only surviving lesbian bars, She Bar. While it is essentially just a basement and sort of reminds you of what you would imagine a World War II bunker looks like, it is still a great space for queer women, and remains on one of the most central streets in Soho, right opposite to G-A-Y bar.

There are, however some serious logistical disadvantages to nightlife in London. Unless you are lucky (and rich) enough to live right in the heart of Soho, most nights out to the best gay bars in London will also include a 3-night-bus trip home, depending where you live.

As mentioned previously, almost all queer venues are on Church Street in Toronto, which makes having a gay night out a lot easier in terms of getting around. Furthermore, the cost of living near to the Gay Centre (while by no means super cheap), is much more doable in Toronto. I actually lived right on the corner of Church Street myself for around 3 months and was the best (and worst) decision as watching a drag show was only a five minute walk away, but I also got horribly drunk at least 3 times a week as a result.

Top mentions for Toronto’s gay nightlife include: Crews and Tangos on Church Street, Meow Meow social at Holy Oak, Beaver Café on West Queen West and, of course the infamous Buddy in Bad Times theatre – a unique creative space which turns into a busy nightclub every weekend, complete with some of the best drag queens from around the country. There are a tonne more male-only gay bars dotted on Church Street, but as a queer woman I never really ventured inside (apart from that one time I went into Sailor on Church and after realising I was the only woman there, quickly left).

Community Feel

Via the519.org

Being a smaller city, it seemed inevitable that Toronto offered a more tightly-knit community feel than London. London’s queer scene is expansive, but spread out. In order to feel part of a community, you really have to find your niche. In Toronto, however, you’re more likely to run into regulars on Church street, and you are much less likely to lose your friends in Crews and Tango than in Heaven.

Despite the fact that Toronto’s queer scene is expanding, the Church and Wellesley Village remains very much the focal point of the community. As well as bars and clubs, the street also holds safe queer spaces such as the 519 Community Centre and the Sherbourne Health Centre. Queen West (now often dubbed Queer West), is also fast becoming the second gay neighbourhood of Toronto. It is the home of over 11 LGBT owned businesses which extends beyond typical gay bars to cafes, galleries and restaurants.

While there is little semblance of a small-community feel to London, the city boasts some of the best LGBT university groups and hosts the annual National Student Pride event at Westminster University – a weekend event which attracts students all across the UK for panel discussions, a LGBT friendly career fair and club nights. While London may not offer the most student-friendly feel to it, the LGBT societies within the University of London are the quickest way for a young person to find a sense of community.

 

 

Pride

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press

In my opinion, Toronto’s pride festival most definitely trumps London’s. There are a few reasons for this: one being that getting around Pride in London is about 10x harder than in Toronto. Part of this is the scale, but also the sheer number of people who show up to London Pride. Every London university, charities, brands, political parties, they all come out for Pride in London, and although it’s great to see so many people getting involved, it can be demoralising when you’re an LGBT charity being held up for three hours behind a float for Tesco.

That being said, the historical views of London make the Pride parade a truly great experience. There’s nothing like passing Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square whilst marching alongside thousands of LGBT folk.

Of course, Toronto’s Pride does not come without big brands trying to milk advertisements out of the event, but having been to each Pride once, I can say that I did feel Toronto’s Pride had a more political feel. When I was there marching with UofT in 2016, a Black Lives Matter protest group stopped the parade during the start, asking for a list of various demands including the removal of uniformed police from the Pride parade. It was certainly a historical moment, and even sparked a similar protest in New York’s Pride a year later.

At the end of the day, the different histories of LGBT culture as well as the starkly different sizes of both cities are what makes them unique in their own right, and although they share many similarities – namely a sense of open-mindedness and a vibrant, expansive queer community that both has great nightlife and a strong political edge, the differences between these cities are what make them both worth visiting.

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