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“Winds of Change” Lift Pride Flag at City Hall

This year's PFLAG participants pushed back against Mayor Rob Ford's anti-gay words and actions.

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Outgoing PFLAG president Irene Miller and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly embrace at the annual flag-raising ceremony.

As Toronto city councillors, activists, and allies gathered today to speak out against homophobia and transphobia, their desire to counter the recent anti-gay tirades of Mayor Rob Ford could not have been more clear. Celebrants marked the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia by reasserting Toronto’s pride in its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and two-spirited residents.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) received a glowing reception as he proclaimed IDAHOT in Toronto—Kelly spoke out in February after Ford demanded that the Pride flag, which was being flown at City Hall to express solidarity with Russia’s gay community during the Sochi Olympics, be taken down.

“In too many countries of the world, in too many cities, people are denied full participation in the lives of their communities by unfair discriminatory laws and customs,” said Kelly, as over a dozen city councillors stood behind him. “Our assembly today is designed to remind people of this unfairness and to declare our support for those struggling for their basic human rights.”

Kevin Beaulieu, the executive director of Pride Toronto, alluded to Ford’s behaviour by thanking councillors “for their longstanding support, which, despite controversies, has not wavered during my time with this organization.” Beaulieu also read a message from Georgian human rights activist Anna Rekhviashvili, who was recently named by Pride Toronto as its 2014 International Grand Marshal. Rekhviashvili and others have been unable to organize IDAHOT celebrations in Georgia because of massive popular opposition.

“We do invite you to celebrate … but always remember that there is much work to be done around the world,” Beaulieu said.

PFLAG president Irene Miller, who embraced Ford during his unexpected appearance at last year’s PFLAG ceremony, took direct aim at the mayor’s recent misconduct, which included numerous misogynistic and racist comments .

“The flags are flying. Do you feel it? The winds of change at Toronto City Hall. I’m feeling it.” Miller smiled. She then focused her remarks directly on the mayor.

“When someone makes a sexist or a misogynistic remark, it hurts me—it’s like a slap on my face,” Miller said of Ford’s sexually aggressive comments about mayoral candidate Karen Stintz. Miller also condemned his racial slurs, cultural epithets, and pejorative lumping together of minorities. “The only minorities that we should be dealing with are the bigots,” proclaimed Miller.

Miller then took time to thank Kelly for reaching out in support during the Sochi controversy. “The same day that I heard [Ford] say that here in City Hall, I was invited in to speak with Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly … who listened and made me feel most welcome.” The rainbow flag, she added, “is more than just a piece of cloth, and should never, never be disrespected in such a horrible way.”

After Miller’s remarks, PFLAG board member Anne Creighton tearfully announced that Miller would be resigning from PFLAG to make an extended stay in the United Kingdom.

Miller told us later in an interview that she had found Ford’s alleged comments about Stintz particularly galling. “Today being my last opportunity to put my voice out there, I did.” Miller said.

When asked what she will take away from her four years as PFLAG president, Miller replied, “the absolute privilege of people sharing their most personal stories. I don’t speak often just for me, I’m echoing what I hear from the people who contact us for support.”

Kelly told us after the ceremony that he was delighted with the warm welcome he received. “I’m humbled by it, frankly. It’s unexpected,” he said. “I’m pleased in a way, because I feel that anyone with the title of mayor in their office represents all the people. As the deputy mayor, it’s the right and natural thing to do.”

Kelly also mentioned that he is looking forward to marching in the World Pride parade—”hopefully close to the front.”

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