The Toronto gay community is up in arms over Rob Ford’s decline of their invitation to attend the July 1 Pride parade. My Twitter feed is alight with comments and the words “Rob Ford” and “Pride” have been trending for the past two days. I can’t help but scratch my head at this.
Lack of Ford’s presence at this years festivities (for the second year running) is being seen as avoidance of the community, a complete lack of support for them and their place in our city, a slap in the face to every gay person, or in a stretch, a direct act of homophobia.
This has been taken too far. Step back. Take out the emotion. Look at this practically.
It is true our mayor has had some ignorant stances. His 2006 comment about the tie between homosexuals and the AIDS virus or his election-time aloof reference to support for traditional marriage come to mind. So with this latest toss up, I have to wonder, why do you want him at the party?
And likewise, why would he want to attend a party where, from a political support standpoint, he has little, if any, support? There are bound to be plenty of “left-wing pinkos,” around the neighbourhood that day, not to mention plenty of people doffing, “Our mayor embarrasses me buttons,” which have been hitting the streets this month. And we can’t forget the demonstrators last year who marched in the parade with Rob Ford masks in an attempt to mock him. Between the politically hyped individuals and the festive water-gun toting marchers, I might go as far as to feel unsafe if it were me. Not everyone knows how to play fair.
I had a conversation on Twitter yesterday with Jon Crowley, a digital strategist who I previously met at a few social media gatherings and once heard deliver a talk called, “The Internet Is Not Made of Hugs.” Crowley indicated he was disgusted by Ford’s decline to his parade invitation and his “lack of education doesn’t excuse his [lack of attendance]… a certain level of understanding / acceptance is a pre-requisite of being mayor.”
Unfortunately for Crowley’s argument, understanding and acceptance is not in our election bylaws. Ford was democratically elected. It’s up to him to now learn about the gay community. Blame him for being here for two years and not reaching out to set up a meeting, not necessarily for hitting up the parade.
Rob Ford is in need of some serious education on Toronto gay history and community issues. And yes, he needs to throw some support and dollars over to Church Street. But perhaps a group of over a million LGBTTIQQ2SA is the wrong place to start for someone so unenlightened.
I remember the first time I went to Pride. The incredible spirit and passion in the air. The elaborate floats and costumes. The spirited social groups. The jovial music. The beautiful and brave drag queens. Thousands of people in heat, basking in the spray of water guns and sprinkle of confetti around Yonge Street. It was nonetheless stimulation overload to someone who had already been to Church/Wellesley on a Saturday night, went to the shows and saw the sights. I couldn’t imagine if our record-breaking million plus in attendance Pride festivities was someone’s first experience to what the gay community is about.
This isn’t the best place to start to ask for a demonstration of support from our mayor. Pride Parade Sunday is a big day (also this year, a national holiday. Talk about bad planning). But there are another 364 days a year that also count. Invite him to community meetings, one of the multitude (of wonderful) charitable activities or smaller demonstrations. Give him a tour of the 519 Community Centre. Take him for a walk through the AIDS monument.
I like the stance of Amber Moyle, the Dyke March team leader, who indicated to Xtra, Canada’s gay and lesbian news magazine, to remember what pride is about. Ford’s attendance or lack thereof will only distract from the true celebration and demonstration of support for the community. Take the day to celebrate. Tackle the mayor after that.
We need to teach him and show him what our well-earned pride is really about. The Totally Naked Toronto group walking down Yonge Street on a hot holiday afternoon is a bit of a shell-shocking place to start.