Do you have the Toronto you want? That’s the question a group of queer activists, under the name proudTOvote, are asking LGBT people in advance of the next municipal election, in an effort to get the LGBT community and allies voting on Oct 27.
It’s been a tumultuous four years in Toronto under the Ford administration — especially for the LGBT community, which has seen its mayor repeatedly spurn the annual Pride festivities, a coterie of councillors work to defund the organization and community grants for LGBT services come under attack.
John Clifford, one of the organizers of proudTOvote, says that mobilizing the queer community to come out and vote is one way to help make sure that we have a mayor and council who support the community for the next four years.
“We’re not just talking about Pride parades. We’re talking about community engagement, getting people interested. The mayor’s record speaks for itself. What we want to do is get out there and let young people in our community know that what they do in this election makes a difference,” he says.
The group launched a slick campaign website last week that includes responses from three of the four leading mayoral candidates to a series of questions about their support for the LGBT community.
They will be hosting a mayoral debate on LGBT issues Fri, Sept 19 at Ryerson University.
“What we want is focus on the mayoral candidates,” Clifford says. “Other candidates for council or trustee . . . can provide information through social media and our website, and we’d be happy to see more information there.”
But proudTOvote will not be endorsing any candidates, or even policies, in its campaign. Organizers say that the group is focused solely on increasing turnout among LGBT voters and making LGBT people aware of the issues that affect them.
Clifford says that the LGBT community is too diverse to speak with a single voice on all issues.
“Each individual has their own stance of what’s important to them, and it’s a reflection of where they come from. LGBT people live in every corner of the city. Your issues as a downtowner may be different if you lived in North York, Etobicoke or Scarborough,” he says.
And the organizers stress that they are strictly non-partisan when it comes to the mayoral contest. Despite the longstanding association of candidate Olivia Chow with the LGBT community, they say proudTOvote is “absolutely not” part of the Chow campaign.
“Even around our table, you would not get consensus on who people are supporting,” says Christine Wilson, another of the proudTOvote organizers.
Nor is the campaign just about shaming Mayor Ford about his absence from Pride.
“One of the things we said from the beginning is that it has to be forward-focused. It has to be about building the kind of Toronto that we want, that celebrates diversity and inclusion,” Wilson says.
Though they may seem similar, proudTOvote is unaffiliated with groups like ProudPolitics, which aims to support LGBT candidates seeking elected office, and the “Queeruption” group, which was formed to protest at the Ford Fest campaign event in Scarborough in July.
For now, proudTOvote is focused solely on the current mayoral election, as they lack the resources to interview and profile every candidate running for council. But they do hope to grow and remain involved in elections to come.
“I’m going to be just as proud to vote a year from now,” Wilson says. “I hope that we can continue to elect representatives that are proud of this community.”