Toronto may be the most progressive city in Canada (bracing for angry comments), but the recent decision by Mayor Ford to skip every single Pride event — coupled with his long history of homophobic statements and voting record — has left some wondering whatever happened to the queer utopia that was Toronto the Good?
Well, it’s said that nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of a proud mayor of Toronto, mayors of other Canadian cities are stepping in to fill the void of progressive local leadership — and in some rather surprising places.
First, it was announced that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi will be the grand marshal of this year’s Calgary Pride parade in September.
"I really believe as mayor you’re mayor of all Calgarians,” he told the CBC.
By this point, Nenshi’s progressive streak is well-known. His surprising come-from-nowhere victory in last year’s election was a good-news story that ran counter to the “Canada’s rightward swing” narrative the mainstream media have been selling and an unfortunate ray of false hope to the Smitherman and Pantalone campaigns in Toronto’s election.
But for a politician to welcome a hugely public role in a Pride parade is a major step in Alberta, where only two years ago the provincial government decided to ban teachers from discussing homosexuality in the classroom without parental notice and consent. Calgary, of course, is also a federal and provincial Conservative Party stronghold.
And that’s not all! London, Ontario, Mayor Joe Fontana has announced that he will be marching in London Pride later this month. This will be the first time London’s mayor has ever marched in Pride and marks a huge departure from past acrimonious relationships between Pride and the city. The Homophile Association of London, Ontario (HALO) had to take the city to the Human Rights Commission in 1995 when then-mayor (and future Conservative Party candidate) Dianne Haskett passed a policy designed to specifically exclude gay events from city proclamations. Fontana will be joined by five London councillors and a local member of Parliament.
Egale has a good list of the history of Pride proclamation battles across the country, by the way.
Incidentally, last year, during the provincial by-election in Toronto-Centre, I asked all of the candidates if they would march in a smaller city’s gay Pride parade and bring their leader there to show support in a community that needs it more than Toronto (oh, how times were simpler in 2010). I specifically asked about London Pride, noting that festival’s rocky history with local politics. All agreed to go march at London Pride (even Conservative candidate Pamela Taylor).
I recently asked Toronto-Centre MPP Glen Murray if he was planning to attend the parade, and he responded that he “would love to do it” but that he “didn’t get an invite” from London Pride, despite his office’s attempts to contact the organization. Ball’s in your court, London Pride.