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Rob Ford and Pride Toronto

Some wonder why the mayor has once again been invited

At Pride 2011 there was lots of speculation about whether or not Mayor Rob Ford would show. He didn't. Credit: Rob Salerno (Xtra file photo)

While Mayor Rob Ford mulls over his invitation to attend this year’s Pride Week events, some queer activists say they wish he had not been invited at all.

This week Pride Toronto (PT) distributed Pride Week 2012 invitations to Ford and other city councillors. On April 17, Ford told reporters he will once again not attend the annual parade, which is one of only eight City of Toronto “signature events.” Ford plans to be at the cottage with his family. He would also not commit to any other Pride events to be held throughout the 10-day festival.

Pride Week 2012 begins June 22 and ends on Canada Day, June 30.

Last year Ford was widely criticized because he did not show up to any Pride events despite numerous efforts encouraging him to attend. One event even took place outside his office. To read the official proclamation, Ford sent Councillor Frances Nunziata in his place.

While mainstream media speculates about whether Ford will attend 2012 Pride, some members of the queer community have expressed frustration that he has been asked to be there at all.

Canadian playwright Brad Fraser used his Facebook wall to blast PT over its decision to invite Ford, encouraging followers to write to the PT board and express disappointment and frustration.

“The decision to invite Rob Ford to attend this year’s Pride event is a slap in the face of any gay person who has a shred of self-worth. Pride Toronto has lost my support in every way, and, if Ford decides to appear at any event, I will do everything I can to ensure that event is dominated by people who hate homophobia. This is an extreme and upsetting failure,” Fraser said.

Xtra contributor Serafin LaRiviere also weighed in: “It amazes me that while this man has declared all-out war on many of us, there are still some who try to cater to him. I understand that [Ward 27 city councillor] Kristyn Wong-Tam needs to be polite and appear evenhanded, particularly if she runs for mayor herself at some point, but Pride Toronto needs to find its balls/tits and make a stand.”

Gay activist Doug Kerr disagrees. He says PT’s invitation shows the queer community is taking “the high road.” He adds, “Personally, I could care less if he marched in the parade, but as our mayor, he should at least be at the flag raising. It’s his job.”

Dyke March team leader Amber Moyle says Ford is sending a clear message to the community by not coming to Pride.

But, whether or not Ford comes to Pride is not an important issue to the queer community, she says. Speculation about his attendance is taking attention away from important issues affecting queer people.

“Sure, Pride has financial benefits for the city, but that’s not the key message. That’s not what Pride is about,” Moyle says. “Queer people aren’t talking about the benefits Pride brings to the city. We are talking about the benefits Pride brings to the queer community. We want people to come to Pride to support the queer community.” 

She adds, “I want to see amazing queer people on the front page of the paper the day after Pride, not Rob Ford.”

Kevin Beaulieu, PT executive director, says he understands there may be mixed feelings about the invitation.

“We have a long history of inviting council to Pride, to mixed effect,” he says. “What’s important is that the city is a supporter of Pride. The mayor and councillors are elected representatives and it’s important that they are invited, and it’s important that they show support for our community.

“If they haven’t supported our community in the past, this is an excellent opportunity for them to do that now, so they can learn and grow and come to understand our community better.”

Wong-Tam says she will not give up on Ford.

Like she did last year, Wong-Tam wrote to Ford on Feb 7, offering to host private receptions for him to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17 as well as Pride.

Wong-Tam wrote, “While the public discussion of LGBT issues in Toronto is often heavily politicized around Pride and other events, I do not believe that the media fully grasps the complexity of the positions held by yourself and other members of Council. To that end, I think that we could work together to get past these very superficial impressions.”

Ford has not responded to her invitations. 

Wong-Tam says it’s important that Toronto’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community knows that they have access to city hall.

“I would never want the message from city hall to be that the queer community doesn’t matter, so I will continue to extend that olive branch to the mayor,” she says. “I know he doesn’t fully understand the community. But there is room for education. People can change. If the mayor wants to be the mayor for all people, then he should also be the mayor for the LGBT community.”

Also receiving an invitation from PT is Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who made a controversial appearance at the Dyke March last year, where he followed women around and videotaped participants. Mammoliti said he wanted to document what he determined to be “hate speech.”

“That was an uncomfortable situation and made many people feel unsafe,” Moyle says. “Do we want someone there who will make people feel unwelcome? People felt policed. They felt like they were being watched and a city councillor was questioning their actions. That is not what the Dyke March is about.”

City funding for Pride 2012 has not been secured. Beaulieu says PT still doesn’t know if the city will provide the $123,807 allocated to PT because it is a signature event, plus roughly $300,000 in-kind services like policing and cleanup.

“We also haven’t received any indication that we should be worried,” he says. “In light of what happened last year, we are monitoring it very closely.”