Despite the media circus surrounding Mayor Rob Ford, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) at Toronto City Hall May 17 was not overshadowed by scandal.
Members of the media swarmed Ford as he made his way back into city hall after reading the official proclamation and raising the rainbow flag. The mayor is accused of allegedly smoking crack and making homophobic and racist slurs in a yet-to-be-released video, the Toronto Star reports.
But Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says it’s important to remember that IDAHOT is about celebrating the work of Toronto PFLAG and the hard work done by queer activists to fight homophobia and transphobia.
“There’s always going to be a sideshow when it comes to Mayor Ford in Toronto,” she says. “But I don’t want his actions, quite honestly, to take away from the work PFLAG has done.”
While city councillors and members of Toronto PFLAG gave touching speeches and shared personal stories, Ford was noticeably distracted. He started off into the distance and shuffled his feet awkwardly, standing behind the row of councillors and Toronto PFLAG volunteers.
Toronto PFLAG president Irene Miller gave a moving speech about love and acceptance. She said that youth are coming out at much younger ages and that it’s urgent and vital that the entire city be a safe space for them.
“We are speaking to youth in Grade 2,” she said. “It’s important for kids to know that if they are different, that’s okay. We want you to come out. Be flamboyantly out. Be yourself. And it’s also important for kids to know they are loved.”
Councillor Adam Vaughan said the event is more important than Rob Ford and bigger than the daily circus that is Toronto city council.
“Anytime this rainbow flag flies above this city, whether that’s at city hall or on Church Street or on people’s backyards or balconies, is a day to smile,” he said. “The larger statement of this flag and the larger human rights movement cannot be overshadowed.”
News of the Ford video first broke on American news website Gawker late on May 16. The reaction on Twitter was immediate and explosive. Hours later, the Toronto Star announced that two staff reporters had seen the video, which was being offered to news outlets for a six-figure price. The Star published a story later that evening that confirmed that the video appears to show Ford smoking crack.
The video allegedly shows Ford inhaling a substance from a glass pipe while calling Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau a “fag” and describing members of the high school football team he coaches as “fucking minorities.”
Wong-Tam says that if Ford’s quotes are true, there should be consequences.
“That should not be tolerated,” she says. “This puts his actions under a particular lens of whether or not he is being genuine when he reads the proclamation . . . It is alleged in this video that he used very derogatory language. He called Justin Trudeau a fag. This is very troubling.”
Ford has denied the allegations. Outside his office, he called the story “ridiculous” and an attack by the Star.
Although the latest homophobic remark is especially serious, Ford has never been a friend to queer communities. He has a long history of attacking local gay institutions, like Toronto Pride and AIDS groups, and has consistently tried to remove funding from both. Since being elected mayor, and even as a councillor, he has steadfastly refused to attend queer events, especially Pride Week celebrations.
Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who was the first mayor of Toronto to march in Pride, says that IDAHOT, especially given the subtext of Ford’s latest scandal, shows very clearly that the fight against homophobia is far from over.
“Today was an important day filled with good, positive energy that was tempered by the reality that is still out there,” she says.
IDAHOT celebrates the date in 1990 that homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classifications of Diseases.