Rob Ford Should Participate in Pride. Period.
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Rob Ford Should Participate in Pride. Period.

The mayor's persistent refusal to make Pride an essential part of his calendar is indefensible.

Rob Ford, once again, will not be attending the Pride parade. Once again, Toronto is plunged into a fierce debate about what this means and how much it matters.

It matters, tremendously, and it cannot be condoned.

It matters because Rob Ford didn’t attend Pride at all last year—not the parade, not ceremonies held at City Hall, not any other official Pride event—and so now we have not just an isolated incident but a pattern of avoiding Pride celebrations as a whole.

It matters because Ford’s claim that it can’t be helped, that the parade conflicts with a long-standing date to spend Canada Day weekend with his family—a claim we have no reason to doubt—rings hollow when unaccompanied by concerted efforts to make up for this by including some of those other Pride events in his calendar.

It matters because people openly wonder if our mayor is homophobic, and he is giving them more cause to wonder.

It matters because Ford, who champions “the little guy” at every turn, who makes hay of travelling across the city to tend to unfilled potholes and unfixed water mains, is snubbing an entire community with a long history of disenfranchisement.

It matters because Ford was elected mayor—mayor of all of us—and part of his job is to foster inclusion, to build a city in which all of us are welcome.

Pride is officially opened each year with a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall. Last year Rob Ford missed it, he said, due to a scheduled private meeting with Brian Burke—as if Brian Burke wouldn’t have gladly held that meeting with Ford right there on the City Hall rooftop, right next to the flag. Today, Ford told reporters he would have to see about attending Pride events other than the parade this year, depending on his schedule.

It cannot depend on his schedule. His schedule must depend on it.

Every political leader has can’t-miss events, occasions whose significance are such that they simply must show up. Sometimes, they do it reluctantly. Sometimes, they do it out of obligation. Perhaps some politicians who go to Pride do so only because they feel they must. Perhaps some of them are homophobic and hate every minute.

They should—and yes, this is a controversial position to stake out—show up anyway, and be supportive when they do.

The only way we make progress, collectively, is by normalizing certain attitudes and holding others unacceptable.

It is unacceptable for Toronto to have a mayor who either is or acts—and these are not the same thing—homophobic. But we have to start with the visible signs of action. We do not know what is in Rob Ford’s heart. His feelings about the queer communities in Toronto may be simple or complex, fully known to him or largely subconscious. (“I think the mayor is shy. I think the mayor is insecure,” councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam told NOW today, and it’s certainly a plausible theory.) We are not the thought police and we cannot, nor do we want to, monitor his mind. But we cannot tolerate this kind of action.

And it is an action. Ford isn’t skipping the parade this year, he didn’t skip all of Pride last year, out of forgetfulness or busyness or getting the dates wrong in his calendar. Large numbers of people, including many of his council colleagues, invited him to attend. Columnists asked him to attend. No doubt many of his advisers pointed out the political backlash he would risk by staying home. This did not just slip his mind. It was a decision, and it was indefensible.

Nobody would likely give Ford much grief if he kept that long-standing date with his family at the cottage: if, that is, he made it clear that he regretted not being able to attend, if he attended other Pride events, if he found other means to show his support. He has failed to do so. And in that, he is failing us all.

It is fairly absurd to be writing this—that we have to write this. “Rob Ford Should Participate in Pride.” It shouldn’t be a question. We would prefer that Toronto hadn’t elected a mayor about whom such questions arise. But we did, and it is incumbent upon Ford to put them to rest, immediately.