3 min

Careful with Rob Ford

Let's not be too hasty to congratulate Toronto's mayor for his reading skills

Then-Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford after a press conference staged against Pride Toronto, June 24, 2010. Credit: Matt Mills

If there’s one city in which its mayor should proclaim, in front of world media, a theme day specifically intended to highlight discrimination against sexual minorities with the intention of turning not just judicial and legislative wheels but also the hearts and minds of those who harbour irrational hate for queer people, Toronto is it. But Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has never been a friend to queer communities and has in the past steadfastly refused to attend queer events, especially Pride Week celebrations. His appearance at the city proclamation event for the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) on May 17 is a good thing, I suppose; a good thing for queer communities.

After saying he wouldn’t attend the IDAHO event, effectively assuring himself that few critics or hecklers would show up, Ford stepped under the warming May sun before a podium at Toronto City Hall and the assembled crowd of queer people and their allies to read from a framed copy of the proclamation:

“I Mayor Rob Ford, on behalf of Toronto City Council, do hereby claim May 17, 2012, as a day against homophobia and transphobia in Toronto and encourage the people of Toronto to send a strong message to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited and transsexual communities – like all the communities are welcome, safe and valued in this great city we call Toronto.”

He kind of stammered through the piece, flubbing a few words, but he got it out in the end.

“I think that the mayor has really demonstrated tremendous leadership today,” Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam told Xtra reporter Andrea Houston. “I think he should be congratulated. It’s a very positive day; it’s an upbeat day. I don’t want to take anything away from him . . . I’m pleased that he showed up.”

It was a sentiment echoed by many queer people there. I, incidentally, was not there, but I notice that missing from the media coverage of the event – missing entirely from Xtra‘s coverage  – is the context of Ford’s record, his past conduct with respect to queer people, and even the history behind IDAHO.

IDAHO was born as part of an international conference on LGBT human rights held during the first World Outgames in Montreal in the summer of 2006. The product of that conference was the Declaration of Montreal, the final clause of which called on countries of the world and the UN to recognize and promote IDAHO. Then-Toronto mayor David Miller issued the first IDAHO proclamation in the city. Toronto has issued the same proclamation each year since, including in 2011 after Ford became mayor.

Ford was in the news in 2006, too. On April 15 that year he was thrown out of a Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre after a confrontation with a man in the crowd in which he blustered, “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?” On May 23 that year he cast the sole vote in council against installing three roadway banners, at virtually no cost to the city, welcoming participants to the International AIDS Conference held in Toronto later that summer. On June 28 that year, in a debate about city funding for community-based HIV prevention programs, Ford told council, “If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS probably.” He voted against the motion at hand then, too. During the 2010 mayoral election campaign, Ford sort of strangely apologized for the remark and his record on HIV issues, but, once elected, he voted against city funding for gay-specific HIV prevention programs. And, of course, one of his first acts as mayor was to call for a review of city spending that included deep cuts to virtually every queer-related institution that takes city money. And we should all be familiar with Ford’s crusade against Pride. Last year, Pride Week was added to the list of city proclamations only after the city was reminded to do so in the media less than two weeks before the event.

Forgiveness is nice. Ford should have the chance to turn over new leaves with respect to queer people, and queer people should be magnanimous about it when and if his gestures are meaningful and sincere. Let’s just not forget who we’re talking about here as we congratulate him on his reading skills.