Ford's refusal to attend the Pride Parade is the start of an annual running joke, and a symptom of a broader problem.
I sometimes wonder if our mayor, Rob Ford, is some version of Phil Connors, the Bill Murray character from the early-’90s comedy Groundhog Day. Except, rather than the day playing over again and again, Ford is the one refusing to change, while the world swiftly moves without him. He fought the transit battle this year as if it were still 2011 and lost. He tries to bully everyone, including his allies, as if he still had the 70 per cent approval rating of May last year, rather than the 41 per cent he has now. And, like last year, he will be skipping the Pride Parade for the cottage, since one of Canada’s largest events falls upon Canada Day.
I’m shocked. Really, absolutely shocked.
Queers give Ford the heebie-jeebies. As many others have noted, the man just isn’t comfortable around people who dig others of the same-sex, notwithstanding the fact that most Pride attendees are straight allies, apolitical folk interested in a good party, or Asian families with young children taking pictures. Being stuck on a float surrounded by gays must be a nightmare—I can relate, getting the same feeling when I’m invited to student film showcases or dry weddings. Yet, being an adult, especially when you have a grown-up job like being the mayor, means having to do some things that may inconvenience you (a few hours away from the cottage) but are for the greater good: in this case, representing, in spite of personal beliefs, the City of Toronto’s values of inclusiveness and acceptance.
Now, there’s an easy out for the mayor. Pride celebrations go on for 10 days. Ford can pick any one of those 10 days, drop in, say “hello,” have the media take a few pictures, and then douse himself in Axe shower spray to wash off the trauma. Unlike last year, where people were by turns angry, disappointed, and shocked that Ford would skip the festivities, especially in light of the heartfelt gestures by Brian Burke and Kristyn Wong-Tam to persuade him to attend, this year his refusal to join feels like the start of a running joke. He is Sideshow Bob, stepping on rake after rake until it becomes hilarious. All he has to do is to think carefully and step aside to be free of that smack in the face, but he creates his own pain again and again.
I wish Ford would loosen up and not take himself so seriously. During Pride, there are people dancing joyously in the street, colourful costumes that rival Caribana’s, and a sense that being together is better than being apart. Rob Ford should indulge in throwing a handful of glitter, taking a picture with a drag queen, and getting blitzed—just like the rest of us. Because, in the end, the population of the “rest of us” continues to grow every day and, in the disappointment of realizing just how outdated and humourless our mayor is, it seems worthwhile to remind him that there’s still room for him to join the party.
In a way, I wish he were at least as savvy as Pierce Hawthorne, the character Chevy Chase plays on Community, who is a misanthrope, but pivots his view on gays after seeing this video, realizing how much financial good they were for his company. After all, Ford’s showing up at the Parade provides him more benefits than it does Pride or the queer community—and be clear that those two things, while overlapping, are distinctly separate. The community is fighting its own battles, working to protect its youngest members from bullying, to fortify the right to marry, and to broaden the legal victories to include the trans population. The mayor’s role at Pride is largely ceremonial and his not joining the festivities is applauded only by his base, which continues to crumble.
Sadly for Ford, life isn’t a Harold Ramis movie and time is steadily marching forward. Young people are getting more progressive on their views regarding equality of same-sex issues, even when they consider themselves religious. The organizers at Pride Toronto have become savvier to avoid becoming a political scapegoat for the Ford administration. And when a million people congregate on Church Street to celebrate the queer community’s hard-earned progress, Ford will be at his cottage, stuck in the glories of the first few months of his mayoralty—and on his own in more ways than one.