The jeers and taunts of the crowd didn’t stop a small group of LGBT activists from attending Rob Ford’s semi-regular Ford Fest barbecue on Friday, July 25.
The activists arrived at Thomson Memorial Park in Scarbourgh clad in rainbow flags and leis at about 7pm, bearing signs that read “We matter” and “Don’t drink the kool-aid.”
Poe Liberado, one of the activists, told Xtra that the group came to challenge Rob Ford’s alleged homophobia, noting that in the past few weeks he didn’t stand to honour city staff’s work on WorldPride and was the sole vote against a report recommending that the City of Toronto investigate more supports for homeless LGBT youth.
“His buffoonery is dangerous,” Liberado said, adding that the activists would stay for as long as it was safe. “This does not scare me, and this does not scare the people here.”
Though initially Ford Fest attendees took a mild interest in the group, members of which brought a megaphone and took turns kissing their partners, the scene grew more aggressive as television crews and reporters started interviewing the activists. A group of about 30 people lobbed insults at the group, with many yelling for the activists to “go home.” More than one person called them faggots.
The situation escalated when one Ford supporter ripped signs from protesters’ hands, tearing them apart as the crowd cheered him on. The activists stood their ground, and although the scene appeared to be getting worse, the tension was broken when Jim McMillan, a military veteran and local politician, entered the fray and defended the activists’ right to be there.
McMillan, a Ford supporter, said that he served in the Canadian military overseas so that people could have the right to free speech. “I would protect them with my life, and so would Rob Ford,” he added. He also offered to tape the activists’ signs back together after the crowd dissipated.
One protester was later allegedly assaulted by a man who allegedly put his hand around the activist’s neck. Doug Ford later spoke to the same protester during an interview with CBC news and told the man that everyone is welcome.
Thousands of people attended the festival, with most waiting in long lines to get free hamburgers and pop and meet Rob Ford in person. The mayor signed autographs in a white tent surrounded by onlookers.
Despite the actions of some Ford supporters, the overall mood of the event was calm — the crowd appeared to be a mix of supporters and people who just wanted a chance to see the infamous mayor.