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Poignant PFLAG Ceremony Ends with Mayor Ford Fleeing Media

Goodwill generated by rainbow flag-raising in stark contrast to latest controversy surrounding the mayor.

20130517 PFLAG Flag Raising at Toronto City Hall 2013 028  Photo by Corbin Smith

Today, as they do every May 17, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) held ceremonies internationally to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The Toronto ceremony takes place at the flagpole on the rooftop podium at City Hall—today a more frantic place than usual. As the event unfolded PFLAG president Irene Miller spoke about love and acceptance; as she ended a moving address on acceptance of sexual and gender diversity, Miller urged those in attendance, “hug one another, do not leave without a hug today!”

Then she went directly over to Mayor Rob Ford and embraced him.

The mayor’s appearance at the flag raising ceremony was his first public event since news broke that Ford was allegedly filmed smoking crack cocaine and making homophobic and racist remarks. Ford has yet to respond to the story, except to characterize the reports as “absolutely ridiculous.”

After reading a proclamation to open the event, an extremely red-faced Ford stood off to the side, literally cornered near the flagpole on the east side of City Hall. Following his brief embrace with Miller, Ford marched back to a second floor entrance to the building, ignoring questions from the phalanx of reporters asking questions about his alleged drug use and discriminatory comments.

20130517 PFLAG Flag Raising at Toronto City Hall 2013 028 78  Photo by Corbin Smith

Miller had a message for people who face discrimination based on sexual identity: “You have people who love and support you. You have people who need to advocate for you…you never need feel alone again.” She also reminded the audience that the damage from homophobic and transphobic comments goes beyond their targets. “There’s a mum, a dad, a brother a sister, a friend somewhere in the vicinity who is also hurt by your ignorance and your homophobia and your bigotry,” Miller said to cheers.

Toronto Pride organizer TK, who is trans, also addressed the crowd, saying that the acceptance displayed at the event would have been unimaginable years ago. “Growing up, I couldn’t have imagined a day like today. I couldn’t have imagined so much love and support in a public square, at City Hall no less.” TK hoped that the million-plus number of attendees at annual Pride festivities would grow next year, as Toronto hosts World Pride 2014.

Many attendees had tears in their eyes during and after Miller’s remarks. Ford himself seemed agitated during the ceremony; he shuffled in place during speeches and whispered to his press secretary George Christopolous. As the ceremony ended and the media swarmed him, the sense of goodwill the event had generated quickly evaporated, and Ford was once again fleeing from cameras and questions.

In a conversation with us after the event, Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) applauded the inclusion of two trans speakers, TK and well-known trans activist Enza Anderson. “It’s not often that trans people are able to share the stage publicly and express their pride,” Wong-Tam said. “They are really brave.”

Wong-Tam also expressed strong feelings about the mayor’s attendance at the ceremony. “I was fairly conflicted when I saw him,” said Wong-Tam. She said that while the queer community is constantly trying to reach out to Ford, he rarely responds. “It’s not good enough for someone to show up once a year and then just expect us to applaud him,” she said. “There’s more to being an ally than reading a proclamation prepared for you by staff.”


  • Mark_G56

    Good on Kristyn for calling out Ford!

    • rich1299

      Well for Ford its a start, he has a long way to go to mend fences with Toronto’s LGBT communities and if just showing up briefly at one event a year is all he’s willing to do it will never be enough to mend those fences as Wong-Tam pointed out. Another good step would be to attend some reception or another for Pride week, there are tons of them and I’ve no doubt they could find a politically comfortable one for him. I recall very well Lastman’s unease at attending Pride but he did it out of a sincere determination to be the mayor of all Torontonians, something Ford isn’t so keen on being himself.

    • picard102

      For someone so vocal about others support for the gay community, they certainly don’t seem to like the job she’s doing in publications like Xtra. It’s one thing to show up to events, it’s another to actually support a community.

  • Anne Creighton

    He is always invited to our (PFLAG’s) Pride Breakfast too but never comes. Disappointing. But it was nice to see Doug Holyday there for the first time ever. Even if he came to support Ford, he seemed genuine.

  • sugar

    PFLAG, right after the reported “fag” slur by Ford they are applauding him and smiling. Disgusting. They just lost my support. It’ seems like ALL other organizations these days, they are without conscience. Has everything become corrupted? Everything? Really?

    • Little Kiwi

      you’re hilarious. so you wont’ support PFLAG, a volunteer-run organization that puts families back together, because they didn’t do what you wanted them to do. even though all present, and all who heard their words, were pretty darn aware that the grace and higher-road chosen in the face of Rob Ford’s ongoing idiocy only makes their stance of inclusivity and intelligence stronger.

      you don’t sound like someone whose support will be greatly missed.

      • Marc

        Jesus, you’ve come from Towleroad to here now too?

      • rickyricardo

        Another apologist for the corrupt. There is no grace in tolerating the corrupt. None. War is not peace. Up is not down.

        • Little Kiwi

          “corrupt” how? TorontoPFLAG is volunteer run and operated. The grace shown utterly put Ford to shame. I’m as anti-Ford as they come. And the words and actions of all involved at the event are the definition of taking the High Road. No pun intended ;-)

          We all know he doesn’t believe a word of the proclamation he read – and the bittersweet reality of that is that despite his bigotry and ignorance, the obligations of his job required him to stand and support (even begrudgingly) LGBT people and our allies. I can’t wait for Ford to finally be out of office. And I’m impressed by the class shown by those at the event, and their clear and strong words against homophobia and transphobia. Had you been at the event and heard the words of all the speakers, you’d be a bit more informed about this.

          • rickyricardo

            They should have told him to go bye bye the moment he showed himself and certainly not have invited him in the first place. I think it is a momentary corruption of humanity when we entertain such people. IMHO

          • vampchick21

            You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

          • rickyricardo

            I know exactly what it means. I don’t think you do. You simply cannot see the context I am bringing. You can’t see it. It’s not that it isn’t clear, YOU just can’t see it, so you projected that I am using the word inaccurately.

        • vampchick21

          So what exactly was PFLAG supposed to do in your estimation? Put aside the words of love, acceptance and tolerance and instead rip Ford a new one?

    • Andrew Wade

      I was one of the people in the audience politely applauding. I can’t speak for PFLAG, but the reason I did so is that Rob Ford had just read the proclamation, and it seemed useful to pretend that he meant it. When Rob Ford shows up to these events, and won’t admit to homophobic slurs, it reinforces the idea of tolerance as being the expected norm and homophobia as something shameful. I think it would have been a mistake to make the event itself all about Rob Ford. But as soon at it was over … that’s a different matter.

  • Walter Lis

    May 17th is on a Friday this year. Cottage time!