UPDATE: May 17 – Mayor Rob Ford got a warm reception from members of Toronto’s queer community when he spoke at the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who congratulated the mayor for attending the event, says the moment represents a big step forward for Ford.
“Today we say that we stand and fight with you in your ongoing fight against homophobia and transphobia,” she told the crowd of about 200 people.
Wong-Tam says May 17 was chosen because on this day in 1990, “only 22 years ago,” homosexuality was removed from the international classification of diseases by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ford had previously said he was unable to attend the lunch-hour event outside his office at city hall.
May 17 at 9am — Toronto PFLAG is inviting people to leave their downtown office towers during lunch hour on May 17 to watch the raising of the rainbow flag at city hall for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).
Unfortunately, says PFLAG’s Irene Miller, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke will likely not attend as planned because he is out of town. Burke will, however, send a message of support to be read aloud. The ceremony begins at 12:30pm. Councillor Gord Perks will read the proclamation, which will be followed by the raising of the rainbow flag. The event will run for about 30 minutes.
Miller says three city councillors have confirmed their commitment to participate in the annual event: Perks, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Janet Davis. Also, Helen Kennedy, from Egale Canada, and Luka Amona, from Pride Toronto, will be on hand. Mayor Rob Ford has declined to attend.
“It’s disappointing because I think it’s important that he stand beside us on this very important day,” Miller says. “It would send a very clear message for him to stand under the rainbow flag . . . I see it as a lost opportunity.”
Overall, attendance is “underwhelming,” she says. “It really means something when the rainbow flag is raised at city hall.” Last year about 60 people attended, including councillors Perks, Wong-Tam, Paula Fletcher, Pam McConnell, Joe Mihevc, Adam Vaughan, Sarah Doucette and Davis. (See pictures from last year.)
“Those of us who go every year know that if we don’t show up, it will not happen, so we will show up,” Miller says. “If we do not ask city hall to proclaim the date it will not be proclaimed. We wish there were more people that joined, which is why we do it at lunchtime. It’s not something that takes a long time. The messages are short and sweet.”
IDAHOT is not a solemn event, she says, but it’s not exactly celebratory, either: “We’re somewhere in the middle.” The low-key event is marked on the same day each year and is a public declaration to continue the fight to end homophobia and transphobia, she says.
“This is a day to show the city, all of city council, that together we proclaim this day,” Miller says. “We are affirming and confirming to do what we can to stop homophobia and transphobia. It’s a day of affirmation to the community and a recommitment that we are still working for you.
“Come and stand beside us, beside the rainbow flag, straight or gay. It really means something to us that it is raised at city hall . . . It’s a universal symbol of acceptance.”
This year, Miller says, Toronto PFLAG is focused on reaching out to students and youth, particularly those fighting for gay-straight alliances. PFLAG is also championing Toby’s Act as it moves toward third reading at Queen’s Park.
“We are all families and we are friends,” she says. “I also know how important this day is for the older LGBTQ people, who did not see it for so much of their lives.”