On Friday June 25, 2004, the Toronto Blue Jays became a bit more colourful when they hosted their first Pride Community Day. Rainbow flags were waving at the SkyDome as over 600 fans from the gay and lesbian community watched the Blue Jays defeat the Montreal Expos 3-1.
To kick off the game, an official Pride Week event, “Welcome Pride Toronto” was displayed on the Jumbotron in center field followed by a special Gay Pride video. Openly gay Canadian Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury helped present a $1500.00 check to the Toronto Pride Committee on behalf of the Blue Jays, and Queer As Folk’s Sharon Gless threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Simone Denny, who sings the theme song for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, sang “O Canada.”
According to Will Hill, the Blue Jays director of Public Relations, a special Pride weekend discount was offered for the entire 3-game series versus the Expos, with a portion of the ticket price donated back to the Toronto Pride Committee.
The community sections were located on field level along the third base line, so the community was clearly visible to the 16,484 fans in attendance at the game. Members of PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays) held up a large rainbow flag, and six clever men wore color-coordinated shirts—one for each of the rainbow colors. Gay men and women fancifully dressed as fruit (this year’s Pride theme was “Bursting with Fruit Flavour”) led the crowd in YMCA and Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch. But mostly the gay and lesbian fans looked like any other Blue Jays fans, and they cheered for the home team just the same.
The day was a “symbolic gesture,” said Paul Godfrey, president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club. “We want the community to know that we are open and welcoming to all.” He added, “We don’t expect to hit a home run the first time, but we hope this will be a good start and that we can develop a base of support.” Mr. Godfrey said the team only received a handful of negative calls and letters prior to the event, and that he answered these personally.
The Jays join a growing list of Major League Baseball teams welcoming the gay and lesbian community. The Philadelphia Phillies are hoping to host over a thousand people at their new ballpark for their second “Gay Community Night” on August 9, 2004. The Chicago Cubs will host over 800 fans at Wrigley Field for the fourth annual “Out At the Ballgame” on August 15, 2004. And the Boston Red Sox have sold 500 tickets to a gay sports organization for the first “Out At Fenway Park” day on August 16, 2004.
The San Francisco Giants will host their 11th annual “Until There’s A Cure” Day, an event which raises money for AIDS organizations in the Bay area. Not only have gay and lesbian organizations participated in this event, but many Giants players such as Marquis Grissom, Benito Santiago, Rich Aurillia and Reggie Sanders have also participated in pre-game ceremonies.
The gay-positive attitude of some MLB teams and players may help expand the baseball fan base. For the Toronto Blue Jays, suffering from poor ticket sales over the past few years, reaching out to the community has both economic and social benefits. And it may be working. As read on a sign held up by two young women at Friday night’s game, “We’re proud to say we are gay! Root, root, root for the Jays!”