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Mayor Naheed Nenshi leads the gay pride parade in Calgary, Alberta, Sept. 4, 2011.Todd Korol for The Globe and Mail

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi posed for countless photos and shook hands with admirers before climbing onto the back of a red convertible to take his place as the city's first mayor to lead the annual Gay Pride parade.

"I'm a little surprised at all the attention this has garnered," Mr. Nenshi, who was elected almost a year ago for a first term as mayor, said Sunday.

"It's important for this community to be welcoming of everyone, and as mayor, I think it's important for me to be mayor of everyone," said Mr. Nenshi, who was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, "straight not narrow."

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford raised the hackles of that city's substantial gay community, and others, when he refused to participate in Pride events there this summer citing conflicts with family plans and other commitments.

Mr. Nenshi remained diplomatic about the frequent comparisons.

"One thing I've learned in this job is you've got to fight for your family time and if that was his family time, that was certainly his prerogative," he said.

Despite the thousands of people and families, many in colourful costumes, who lined the city's core Sunday, Calgary hasn't always been so inclusive.

In 1991, gay and lesbian activists received a proclamation for Gay Pride events from then mayor Al Duerr, but he faced a backlash in conservative Calgary and the rally, which had attracted 192 people, was quashed and the proclamation was rescinded.

The city's support was revived the following year, a parade took place and the event has grown in visibility from there. In 2001, former prime minister Joe Clark was parade marshal, despite opposition from some religious groups.

As both the provincial Progressive Conservatives and Liberals poised to elect new leaders, several candidates also participated in Sunday's parade.

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