Since Mayor Rob Ford couldn’t make it to the Pride parade, a group of Toronto queers are planning to bring a big gay parade to Ford Fest, the mayor’s annual backyard barbeque on Sept 7.
The idea came to Leigh Williams after she read a news story about Ford Fest, so she started a Facebook invite in the hope people would join her and bring a few rainbow flags.
In less than a few hours, more than 140 people had responded to the Facebook invite saying they’d attend.
“Based on the comments I am getting from people, everyone is genuinely excited and interested in this,” Williams says.
The invite states, “Bring your Pride in whatever form you like and let’s show Rob what our community is all about! Above all, let’s keep this peaceful, fun, and political.”
Ford invited the “whole city” to the barbeque during an Aug 28 Newstalk 1010 radio interview. The event is held in his mother’s Etobicoke backyard, which Ford says can accommodate up to 5,000 people.
He promises hot dogs, hamburgers, beer, pop and even pony rides for kids. The evening will be capped off with a fireworks display.
“Ford has said that this is a diverse event, and everyone is welcome,” Williams says. “Rob Ford has ostracized our community in the past. We just want to be represented as part of the diversity of Toronto.
“I hope people bring their rainbow flags and show whatever Pride means to them.”
For the past two years, Ford has snubbed the Pride parade, maintaining that he spends the weekend at the cottage with family. Ford did not attend any Pride Week events during the 10-day festival.
The Toronto Star recently reported that Ford kept a “light schedule” in July, the month Pride was held, attending around two or three meetings per day.
“I hope I get to ask him a question about [not attending Pride],” Williams says. “Ford portrays himself as a man of the people, and we are all included in that.”
Likewise, Williams says she hopes people take the opportunity to question Ford on his relationship with the queer communities. The event is not a protest, she says, adding that she is encouraging people to have fun while being respectful and peaceful.
In the past, Ford has steadfastly refused to attend gay events, especially Pride Week celebrations. He has also consistently voted against queer causes in council, and has a history of making insensitive, even hateful statements about queer and HIV-positive people.
In 2005, Ford revealed his ignorance about trans people. “I don’t understand. Number one, I don’t understand a transgender. I don’t understand, is it a guy dressed up like a girl or a girl dressed up like a guy? And we’re funding this for, I don’t know, what does it say here? We’re giving them $3,210?” On HIV, Ford told council in 2006, “If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS probably.”
During the 2010 mayoral election campaign, Ford apologized for the remark and his record on HIV issues, but, once elected, he voted against city funding for gay-specific HIV-prevention programs. And, one of his first acts as mayor was to call for a review of city spending that included deep cuts to virtually every queer-related institution that takes city money.
His appearance at the city proclamation event for the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) on May 17 was seen as a step in the right direction, but Ford has since made no effort to support, or meet with, the gay community.