When Rob Ford swept to power last year, we all knew 2011 would be a tumultuous year at city hall. What we didn’t predict was how the antics of Ford and his brother Doug would dominate news coverage for the next 12 months.
Virtually every utterance from the brothers Ford fascinated us — but not just us. The Fords were constant fixtures of local and national media, even, occasionally, international media.
Ford’s governance style and erratic thinking could hardly even be described as conservative. He seemed to be guided all year by a general desire to make the city worse.
The gay community has been caught up in Ford’s war on everything the city does or enjoys, most notably in his months-long campaign against Pride Toronto and the ongoing war against city funding for HIV/AIDS prevention programs. While the Ford administration did not end up cutting funding to Pride this year, the mayor did pointedly snub every Pride event Toronto’s mayors traditionally attend. He delayed proclaiming Pride Week until the absolute last minute. He refused to attend the Pride flag-raising at city hall, sending Councillor Frances Nunziata in his stead. His announcement that he would be skipping the Pride parade to spend the weekend with his family turned the story of Pride into a “will he or won’t he march” show.
Could 2012 be the year Ford attempts a rapprochement with the queer community? We doubt it, given that HIV-prevention programs are on the chopping block as part of his campaign to destroy Toronto.
In her first year as a city councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam has proven to be highly responsive and effective at representing residents’ concerns to our often intransigent mayor.
While Wong-Tam played a big part in negotiating the city’s truce with Pride, some of her more important accomplishments were much quieter. She’s helped set up the fledgling Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association and she helped lead the successful opposition to a reviled condo proposal that would gut several heritage properties and force out Sugo and Fuzion.
But we’re a little concerned about some of Wong-Tam’s work this year. She took up a campaign to impose turn restrictions on Homewood Ave in an escalation of the spat between some residents and area sex workers. She has also made little progress on improving the Village’s streetscape, having seemed to turn her focus toward improving downtown Yonge St.
In the coming year, we’d like to see Wong-Tam move faster on some of these issues, stay true to promises she’s made to the queer community and quash condo proposals that threaten to shutter or overshadow the Barn, fly, Fire on the East Side and Buddies.
Oh, Pride Toronto. The old girl wasn’t what she used to be at the start of 2011. While we here at Xtra have had a tumultuous relationship with the organization in the past, we took little joy in naming former executive director Tracey Sandilands our 2010 newsmaker of the year for her general incompetence.
But we have to tip our hats to Pride, which grew into a much stronger organization this year. After Sandilands resigned in January, Pride received the recommendations of its Community Action Panel and set to work improving its relationship with the community.
Interim ED Glen Brown steered the organization through a political minefield over several city councillors’ attempts to defund the festival.
Pride scored a moral victory when the city manager released a report indicating that participation by the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid did not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy, removing several councillors’ original stated motivation for defunding the event. Nonetheless, QuAIA voluntarily withdrew from the parade so that the councillors’ attacks on Pride would be revealed for the homophobic machinations they were.
Not that the parades themselves were without controversy. The Trans March split off from its original route along Church St to instead parade down the far more visible Yonge St. And participants in the Dyke March rightly complained when they noticed that Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti had shown up with a camcorder to videotape the parade. But on the plus side, Blockorama was returned back to the much more prominent Wellesley Stage after years on the margins, proving hugely popular once again. As it turned out, all the fighting with city hall made the community band together tighter than it has in a long time. This year’s Pride was the best in recent memory.
On Dec 1, former city council staffer Kevin Beaulieu took over the reins of Pride. He’s proven a popular choice so far, but he’ll have his work cut out for him to maintain Pride’s momentum.
With files from Andrea Houston.