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