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Marcus Gee

Mayor misses out on opportunity to celebrate diversity Add to ...

Rob Ford’s decision not to march in the Pride parade is profoundly disappointing. It makes him look petty, stubborn and mean. It is an embarrassment for a city that proclaims its diversity to the world.

The invitation to join the parade – still very much open, in case the mayor relents – was a golden opportunity for Mr. Ford to show he can rise above the narrow-minded provincialism he has often displayed in the past. It was a chance to grow. By turning his back on Pride, he is missing it.

Toronto has changed immensely, and for the better, since Mayor Art Eggleton refused to proclaim Gay Pride Day in the 1980s. Mayors of Toronto have been marching in the parade since Barbara Hall wore the chain of office. Police Chief Bill Blair makes a point of being there to build bridges to the gay community. So do provincial and federal cabinet ministers of all political stripes. Brian Burke, general manager of the Leafs, is marching. Why not Mr. Ford?

The mayor says he and his family have a long tradition of going up north to their cottage on the Canada Day weekend. Those times are precious, no doubt, but surely he could take a one-day break this year, his first as mayor.

Pride is a huge event in Toronto. The parade is one of the biggest of its kind in the world, bringing half a million people to march and party in the Gay Village. Once a fringe protest, it has become an established mainstream event that attracts major corporate sponsors and millions in tourist dollars.

Mr. Ford’s decision to absent himself is an unmistakable snub, not just to an important city festival but to the whole gay community. When mayors march in Pride, it sends a signal of acceptance to a once-marginalized and still vulnerable minority. Even in these days of broad tolerance and legal same-sex marriage, men and women are still shunned, bullied and beaten for being gay or lesbian. Is the mayor aware of that? Does he give a damn?

He has yet to show it. When he was a city councillor, he once railed against spending money on AIDS prevention. He was the only leading candidate in last year’s campaign for mayor who did not attend Pride.

Since becoming mayor, he has spurned every attempt by the gay community to reach out to him. He declined to come to a ceremony marking an international day opposing homophobia. He turned down many invitations from gay and lesbian groups to attend next week’s ceremonial flag raising for Pride Week, assigning city council’s Speaker to go in his place. It took him months even to do something as simple as sign the Pride Week proclamation.

Whether he means to or not, he has left the unfortunate and probably mistaken impression that he has a problem with gays and lesbians. Marching in Pride would erase that impression. In an afternoon, he could clear away any questions about his supposed prejudices. He might even have fun.

Pride is a joyous celebration of life in all its rainbow colours. There is nothing else in the city quite like it. Torontonians of all kinds, gay and straight, have learned to embrace it.

When a reluctant Mel Lastman marched, he had a blast, trading squirt-gun blasts with a cheering crowd. If Mr. Ford joined in, he would find a remarkably open-minded community welcoming him to the party.

The spectacle might make him squirm a little – all that skin and leather – but it wouldn’t kill him to go outside his comfort zone for a few hours. Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city councillor who represents the Gay Village, says it might even give him a glimpse of how gays and lesbians sometimes feel living as outsiders in a straight world.

It was one thing for Mr. Ford to skip the event when he was a cranky suburban councillor. It is different now. He is mayor, pledged to represent all the people. Pride is the perfect place to show it. He should change his mind, grab a squirt gun and march.

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Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee


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