For the second consecutive year, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has declined an invitation from PFLAG to attend its flag-raising and proclamation to mark International Day against Homophobia. The annual event takes place outside City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square on May 17 over lunch break. It runs for about 30 minutes.
Ford’s decision comes days after homophobic remarks by commentator David Menzies went unchallenged by the mayor on his weekly radio show and amid criticism over Ford’s refusal to commit to attending any Pride Week events for the second consecutive year.
A PFLAG representative says she thought the group would be a suitably positive space for Ford. City councillors regularly march with PFLAG at Pride and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke will be in attendance at the event on the 17th.
PFLAG Toronto president Irene Miller was hopeful the mayor would attend and expected he would. The organization coordinated with Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam in February to give the mayor’s office adequate notice and provide every opportunity for a positive outcome.
Despite the disappointing response, Miller is keeping the door open. “Toronto PFLAG would be open to meeting with the mayor anytime. If he would like to speak, we are always here and available.”
Miller maintains the need to provide the mayor that space in the future and adds that this is part of the non-judgmental and constructive dialogue the organization is dedicated to building. A spokesman for the mayor’s office declined comment for the article.
Like Miller, Wong-Tam has been patient and accommodating with the mayor’s office but argues that Ford’s refusal undermines his ability to be a leader for the whole city. “The role of the mayor has always been to champion the city. And when the mayor does not champion diversity or support diverse communities, it sends the wrong message. It takes away from his own validity as the head of the city.”
Wong-Tam, who is gay, added that when she was growing up she admired the principled risks some politicians took to be allies, including Stephen Lewis, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe. She says this leadership can build communities and transcend political boundaries.
Councillor Gord Perks will raise the flag instead, as he has the previous two years. He says he’s more than happy to support the organization, and part of that is due to its universal values.
“PFLAG is one of my favourite organizations in the city of Toronto. It’s one of the very few organizations that is explicitly formed around love. Love for family, love for friends, and unconditionally accepting the people you love for who they are. How can you turn that down?”