On June 21, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford announced that he would not be marching in the city’s Gay Pride Parade, as it fell on the same weekend as Canada Day, during which his family traditionally leaves the city to relax at the cottage. “I’ve been going to Huntsville as long as I can remember,” Ford told reporters, “since I was a little boy, we always used to go up north to our cottage, and I’m carrying on the tradition that my father had. Last year I was there during the campaign, we’re there every year and we’re going to continue that.”
Left-wing members of city council and media immediately heaped scorn upon Ford’s decision to forego the annual exhalation of the gay lifestyle, but Pride leaders expressed apathy and the city’s citizens seemed to support the mayor.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes Toronto’s Church and Wellesley gay village, called it a “grave mistake,” telling the National Post that “it sends the wrong message to the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community,” and that “he has a ways to go to making amends.”
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that he sent a letter to the media after Ford’s announcement was criticized by political opponents which noted that every year the pro-life organization invites the prime minister each year to attend the National March for Life in Ottawa and yet CLC does not complain about his absence at the event.
Hughes said, “We don’t vilify those who don’t support us. We celebrate those who do.”
Just days after the mayor made the announcement, Pride Toronto’s co-chair Francisco Alvarez said Ford’s decision represented a missed opportunity “to strengthen his connection with the LGBT community,” but he would wait until later to draw conclusions. “He’s a very busy guy and has a lot of competing demands. We would have been very happy to see him there.”
The decision came in the midst of controversy surrounding Toronto funding the parade, due to the possibility of anti-Semitic factions wanting to march as they had last year. The Pride leadership eventually caved to city pressure, but a city councilor George Mammoliti went to the Dyke Parade, the day before the main Pride Parade, and took video of Queer’s Against Israeli Apartheid’s presence. He has vowed to get Pride defunded and organizers say that without the city’s $123,807 grant – about five per cent of Pride’s week-long festival budget – the future of the parade was in doubt. According to the Globe and Mail, the city also provides free clean up after the parade, estimated to cost $250,000.
Some of Ford’s supporters noted that QAIA said it was participating in Pride regardless of whether organizers allowed them, so the mayor could not have marched and risked being seen supporting the controversial group.
For the week leading up to the parade, there were repeated news reports that Ford would flip-flop and attend after all. His brother, city councilor Doug Ford said they would return from the family vacation early and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke encouraged the mayor to march.
But while the pundits squawked about Ford turning Toronto-the-good into Toronto-the-intolerant and that the city was taking a step backwards on equality, the public seemed to agree with the mayor’s decision not to participate. According to a CP24 poll, 72 per cent of respondents said he should not change his mind.
Though there were a few voices in the media who said what much of the city was feeling: it doesn’t matter.
Mark Bonokoski wrote in the Sun chain of papers that a mayor is not required to attend every mass gathering of people in his or her city, and noted that Ford did sign the city’s Pride week proclamation. When city speaker and Ford ally Frances Nunziata read the proclamation at the raising of the rainbow flag at city hall, she was heckled and booed.
Ford also has two young children and perhaps more than sending a signal about homosexuals who live in the city, he did not want his progeny seeing photos of him being sprayed in the face with water guns that symbolize a phallus.