When Mayor Rob Ford announced he was declining to attend the Pride parade for the second year in a row, there were Torontonians willing to cut him some slack. Perhaps his family cottage gathering that falls on the same weekend really is sacred to him (though that doesn't explain why he chose to skip all Pride Week events last year). Perhaps, to be even more charitable, he just isn't comfortable with all the bare skin and open sexuality on display at the parade. But his decision not to attend a simple flag-raising for gay rights is unforgivable.
The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia falls on May 17. It is not part of Pride Week, which takes place June 22 to July 1. Participants will raise the rainbow flag on a podium outside City Hall just steps from the mayor's office. There will be no cavorting and no squirt-gun fights.
Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will be there. His gay son was killed in a car crash. The Toronto police are sending a senior officer. At least three city councillors will go.
They will give a few short speeches about the toll that the hatred known as homophobia has taken on its victims and their families. The whole thing, carefully timed for lunch hour to avoid conflicting with busy schedules, will be over in 35 minutes.
Yet the mayor says his schedule will not allow him to attend. Really? He goes to dozens of charity and community events for every cause from the arts to disabled kids. Just not, so far, for anything to do with homosexuals. What is the pressing event that will keep him from breaking away for 35 minutes on May 17? His staff have declined to say.
If the mayor was looking for an event that falls within his comfort zone, this was it. The flag-raising is organized by the Toronto chapter of PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. A less threatening bunch is hard to imagine.
PFLAG is a volunteer group dedicated to helping gay people live proud without fear. It runs a 24-hour help line. It gives anti-bullying talks in the schools. It holds monthly support meetings for men and women who are coming out.
Its president, Irene Miller, 62, is a mild former office administrator. She says, in a voice accented by her native Scotland, that she will be coming to the flag-raising in a nice dress, her husband beside her in a business suit.
Her son, a Toronto actor, came out a decade ago. "We are very proud of him and we want everyone to know it," she says on the phone. When a gay friend of her son became alienated from his family, she took him into her house to live. A thing like that, she says, "can rip a family apart."
She has bent over backward to make Mr. Ford feel welcome to the event. She wrote to him first in February, followed up in mid-March, then sent a "gentle reminder" again in early April.
When he finally wrote back to say he couldn't make it, she was careful not to condemn him for it. She gives his staff credit for apologizing to her for not answering earlier, due to some apparent "confusion" in the mayor's office. She notes that the mayor is signing a proclamation for the Day Against Homophobia, as he does when he proclaims scores of other special days during the year.
She still hopes he will change his mind about coming. For a man who seems to be skittish, at best, about gay issues, "I think this would be a perfect entryway, in that if he comes with us he is standing with the moms and dads – the straight people," she says. "He is missing a terrific opportunity."
That is putting it mildly. With a single half-hour appearance, he could have buried the whole fuss about gays and the mayor. Once again, he muffed it.