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Councillors open Toronto Pride Week 2013 at city hall

Many question Mayor Rob Ford's motivation in attending flag-raising

The rainbow flag is now flying over city hall, signalling the official start of Pride Week in Toronto.

Twenty-seven city politicians turned out this year for the event. Mayor Rob Ford was also at the June 24 flag-raising, making it the first Pride event he has ever attended. Most onlookers responded to Ford's reading of the proclamation with a smattering of polite applause, while a few gave him a standing ovation and a handful booed.

Others expressed concern that Ford’s appearance displayed hypocrisy because two weeks ago he walked out of council during a vote on whether to include funding for Pride Toronto in the city's cultural grants package. He later voted against continuing all city cultural grants. 

Ford has consistently voted against funding for HIV/AIDS prevention programs and arts-and-culture funding. He has also made disparaging comments about trans people. 

Councillor Adam Vaughan says Ford likely attended the flag-raising because 2014 is an election year. 

“I think that he has been damaged by these recent scandals,” he says. “So I think he is just trying to rescue his public persona. But his political persona has been one in which he has fought against the gay and lesbian community. He shows up for the flag-raising. Great. Will he show up for the vote when it’s time to show support to this community? Until he does, he should be shunned.”

Much like at the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia at city hall last month, Ford appeared distant, staring down at his feet in silence while others cheered.

The crowd greeted another politician in attendance, Premier Kathleen Wynne, with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Wynne will be the first Ontario premier to march in the Pride parade, according to the Canadian Press. Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty often attended Pride Week festivities, but never marched, CP states.

Wynne told reporters that she always attends the parade with her wife, Jane Rounthwaite. “I just think it’s so important that we support this incredibly significant celebration in the city,” she said. “I think everyone who can support Pride should do so. It’s very important, particularly for the children in our schools and children growing up questioning and needing support.” 

Wynne also congratulated Toronto PFLAG president Irene Miller, who will lead the Pride parade as grand marshal this year. “Families are so important in the fight against homophobia,” she added.

Former provincial Conservative leader and former mayoral candidate John Tory, who says he has been marching in Pride for the past six years, was surprised to learn Wynne will be the first premier to march.

“I don’t know why that is,” he says. “Maybe it’s because they were just busy, or maybe they thought there was some sensitivity to it, but we’re long past that now. Pride is about celebrating everybody and taking people for exactly as they come and celebrating that.”

Last year, Councillor Janet Davis came out as the proud mother of a gay son. She says it’s important to be a vocal ally all year round, not just at Pride. She is marking her first anniversary as a PFLAG mom.

Davis says she hopes all the politicians who attend Pride events are genuine and not simply taking part for the photo opportunity. She expressed concern that Ford’s attendance is “tokenism.” 

“I hope that it’s not just a pre-election move. The mayor is certainly in campaign mode,” she says. “I hope it’s motivated genuinely out of acknowledgment and respect to Pride and the LGBT community. 

“I’d like to hear him speak genuinely and not from a script. I want to hear him explain what he plans to do to support the queer community, many of whom are marginalized and face exceptional barriers.”