The studio was packed with people in all four corners, taking in the art exhibit which showcased queer artists. Small groups of people filled the room with their conversations, some sitting and trying their skills at origami, and others standing, admiring the art displayed on the walls.
The first edition of Queer in the City took place in late November at Junto Studio on Dupont Street, a queer-owned business and organizer of Queer in the City.
This one-day event, held to celebrate queer creativity, featured queer art and vendors, an origami workshop, and an open mic night.
“I wanted to create an event like this one — not only do I want to make more queer friends, but I love the idea of having queer creatives in the same space making something beautiful,” said Mars Atkinson, organizer of Queer in the City.
“Growing up, I had lots of queer friends, and they made me feel like it’s really important to find those people that encourage you to express yourself,” Atkinson said. “And you find that there is a lot of support in the queer community.”
A local painter who attended Queer in the City said there currently aren’t many events like it.
“We don’t have a lot of spaces designated to us, so I think it is awesome that somebody is taking the initiative to facilitate this for us,” Emmy Tran.
Queer community in Toronto’s art scene
In the 1980s, gay movements were happening all over Canada, and people came together, whether it was to celebrate or protest events like Dykes in the Streets. On Oct. 17, 1978, 350 women gathered to march in Toronto, focusing on lesbian power, pride, and visibility as the theme. At that time, gay businesses moved from Yonge Street to Church Street, creating what is now know as Toronto’s gay village, according to Canadian Living.
Queer art has always had a place in history. Deliberate or not, queer artists show a unique perspective in their art that was the result of queer identity of the time. Think of Keith Haring, his vibrant, playful, provocative yet socially-conscious images form an important part of the history of gay symbolism and identity.
“I find that giving a platform for queer specifically artists is really important, not only for the representation and inspiration for kids growing up but also to have that perspective in the art scene,” said Kelly Timmons Chan, one of the featured artists at Queer in the City.
Timmons Chan is a Cantonese Canadian American mural painter. They focus on their personal experiences and try to create a space for mixed people, marginalized folks and immigrants to heal and feel represented in art.
“I go into my art thinking of what needs to be talked about in the community right now,” said Timmons Chan. “A lot of it is about your chosen family in the queer community, those people that make you feel at your strongest.”
People are the common denominator
Everything has a spectrum, explains Timmons Chan. Their experience as a queer individual has been overall a positive one, and they said it’s important to highlight the fact that not everyone needs to fall in tragedy.
“I grew up understanding I was queer, but not understanding the language around it. As much as I felt different and odd, I fit in pretty easily, so I wouldn’t identify myself as a marginalized individual because of it,” said Timmons Chan. “So I work to use my privilege to uplift the perspective that reflects other people.”
People are the common denominator in building community events, spaces and art that represents them. In the case of Timmons Chan, they use purple people in their illustration to showcase the Queer community, which is part of their new series called “Chosen Family.”
“It’s all about a bunch of little purple people engaging in the same way community groups reflect,” said Timmons Chan.
The power of community
According to Statistics Canada, individuals who actively engage in community networks report higher levels of life satisfaction and mental well-being.
Studies indicate that queer individuals who feel a sense of belonging and community are more likely to experience lower levels of anxiety, depression, and social isolation, according to Queer Loneliness: How to Find Community, an article by McMaster University.
For members of the queer community in Toronto, this underscores the importance of creating and nurturing spaces where individuals can connect, share experiences, and support one another.
Marginalized communities often face unique challenges, and the queer community is no exception. Discrimination, stigma, and societal pressures can take a toll on mental well-being. Creating a community where individuals can find understanding, acceptance, and solidarity becomes a crucial aspect of combating the negative effects of these challenges.
Celebrating the community: a full-circle moment
Toronto’s queer community has been increasingly recognizing the significance of coming together. The benefits extend beyond just social interaction, but can impact their mental health.
“There is a lot of queer events that focus on the struggles and how hard it is to be queer with statistics and stuff like that, and that’s good, it’s important to talk about it, but I really want to see events where we can celebrate ourselves,” said Atkinson.
Community groups in the city such as the chaotic queer dodgeball, Queer wine night, and Queer art crawl, will be showcased in Timmons Chan new series.
“My whole world flourished when I found out that every possible community group you could think of if you had an interest you could find one,” said Timmons Chan.
They explain how these community groups were responsIble for most of their connections, and a great way to upkeep these relationships. “One year later, after attending multiple community groups, I started my own community group called Queer art crawl,” said Timmons Chan.
Queer art crawl is a mural touring group around the city for people interested in art that allows people to join and go outside.
“I wanted to show that full-circle moment, from starting not even knowing about community groups to starting my own to adding to the scene,” said Timmons Chan.