Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why it does matter when the Mayor snubs Pride:

It might not come as a surprise to most of us, but at least it's official: Mayor Rob Ford will not be marching in or attending the Toronto Pride Parade this July 2nd. The major event, which is the culmination of a week's worth of events, conflicts with plans to go to his Muskoka cottage -- a tradition in his family for generations and generations.

When asked about his plans for the Canada Day weekend, Ford responded that he's been going to the cottage since he was a child: "Since I was a little boy, we always used to go up north to our cottage, and I’m carrying on the tradition that my father had.”

Fair enough. We all have family traditions that are important to us, that are priorities , and that we try to organize our hectic lives around but for most of us there comes a time when it becomes impossible and we have to (sadly) arrive late or even miss our favorite family festivities. It's a fact of life and, unfortunately for Mayor Ford, it's especially a fact of life for those in public positions who are paid with taxpayer dollars.

In today's National Post Barbara Kay wrote: "Good for Rob Ford. Canada Day is a day for all Canadians to celebrate their nation as a 38-million strong collective, not a small minority of people celebrating their sexuality. There are times when family trumps political work, and this is, or should be, unarguably one of them." (the article was lovingly accompanied by the photo on the right)

Well, okay. Interesting theory...? First of all, it's not a "small minority" of people. It's been estimated that participation in Pride events, and especially the parade, runs into the hundreds of thousands--a million even. That's comparable to the Caribana festival --or, rather, the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival -- and even if it was just a small minority of people? What then? It's okay to not endorse and support the event? Well, that's just silly Barbara. The fact is that Toronto Pride is a massive corporate event and it brings an insane amount of money into our fair city, money that isn't just queer money even : straight people also attend Pride events! That "small minority" IS celebrating but so are their straight friends, their straight parents and grandparents, their straight children, and their straight colleagues. That's called a "community" and Pride is a "community" event.

Secondly: Canada Day isn't an excuse. Does the Prime Minister always miss Canada Day celebrations? Do other elected officials get to say "oh, a national holiday? Naaaah, I have to go BBQ at the ol' cottage!" Being elected Mayor of a city like Toronto means that your old holiday schedule might have to change, be flexible. It's that lack of flexibility that is the real problem here, the reason why it IS important that Ford is choosing to miss the Parade. Huntsville is a three hour drive away. Leave your cottage in the a.m, come wave a bit and throw some candy into the crowd, take the boos with a grain of salt, then drive back to Huntsville in time to toss a few beers back and set off some fireworks with the family. People do it ALL of the time. He's not going to a cottage on a private island in the middle of the ocean, he's going to the Muskokas, which is practically still in Toronto.

Just because it's Canada Day weekend doesn't mean that his choice is an obvious one-- maybe if being with your family on Canada Day is so important politicians should lobby for airline discounts during that weekend, so those of us who are not from the GTA could actually go home for a change. If Barbara Kay thinks that being with family is the most important thing on Canada Day then I will gladly accept a ticket home on her behalf, because guess what-- some of us don't have the luxury of skipping work to go home, let alone cottages.

In the same vein, why didn't Rob Ford take St. Patrick's Day off? Or Easter? He marched in both of those parades. I didn't get upset that the Mayor marched in an Easter Parade, despite the fact that I am not a Catholic and that I have major issues with organized religion. The Catholic Church doesn't want me to have protected sex because it thinks I should be a vessel for babies, risk be damned. But hey, Ford may be Catholic and he has Catholic constituents, so I don't really care that he marched in that Parade because that's what the Mayor does.

It is precisely because it would be so easy for Ford to attend(and that it's kind of his job) that makes it ridiculous that he won't. David Miller and Mel Lastman both marched in Pride while they were Mayor of Toronto. Even Police Chief Bill Blair once marched in the Parade. If Ford doesn't want to be there, that's fine. Don't march. But some kind of official representation from the City of Toronto's highest office is certainly in order here, especially in this case. Why isn't the Mayor on the Program for the Pride Flag raising at City Hall on June 27th? Is he at the cottage that day as well? Of course not, because where he is isn't the point.

Let's not pretend that Rob Ford hasn't displayed homophobic tendencies(to put it lightly). When he was a councillor in Etobicoke he commented that “if you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS, probably.” As mayor he was the only person who voted against restoring provincial funding for syphilis and HIV screening programs, he tried to defund Toronto Pride, and he doesn't support same sex-marriage rights.

Ford holds the same views on homosexuality and lgbtq rights as a lot of Conservative leaning politicians and people do, that's no secret. It isn't his homophobia or right wing politics that are at issue here, it's what he's planning on doing with them. That is why I agree with Councillor Wong-Tam who characterized the choice as a "missed opportunity... given the past historical remarks that he has made," an opportunity for him to "step forward" and begin to "make amends with the community." Whatever his own personal politics are, there IS hatred in this city. There are hate crimes, violence, and bullying perpetrated against homos (sorry po-mos, it's the truth). There are kids in high schools who aren't allowed to form gay-straight alliances, who aren't allowed to display rainbows, who KILL THEMSELVES from being bullied and called gay.

In Barbara Kay's article she declares that "Pride has no more legal and political ambitions to fill" because the "revolution is over." She says that "Pride is no longer about support for gays" and is actually just about having "gay-themed fun"(whatever that may be). Revealing her own deep-seated homophobia, Kay writes that Pride participants do everything but have sex in public, that it deserves public funding just about as much as a strip show, and is all about lewd self promotion. "Tolerant and non-homophobic Canadians" don't want to celebrate that yuckiness!

The culture we live in is one in which a straight woman feels entitled to tell us when our own revolution is over, that we are all dirty gay sex fiends, and that a diverse(and often family friendly) celebration is not worthy of our own tax dollars. And that's not homophobic? Pride isn't the only solution to this kind of garbage but when politicians and public figures participate it is always a step in the right direction. Barbara Kay herself is a good argument for Ford marching in the Parade -- hatred is so normalized that it's in the mainstream media without question.

Deciding against participation creates an Us vs Them kind of mentality with Ford on one side and the lgbtqa community on the other. Ford is the Mayor(unfortunately), we're stuck with him. But he's stuck with us too. This is our city AND his. To march in the Parade, or to be involved in any way, might not have meant a lot to some people but we need to stop and consider what it means to Ford. It means he doesn't want to extend an olive branch, he doesn't really want to work with this community, that he is so stuck in his own ideology that he can't even participate in something he doesn't 100% believe in. It means he doesn't acknowledge that there will be people participating in Pride who actually voted for him because all he sees are left-wing radical perverts. Sure, I might not want to see Ford at Pride shaking his money maker(actually.. I did) but it would definitely demonstrate that he's willing to step outside of his comfort zone and really lead this city, fags and all. To be a healthy city we need the Us and the Them to at least try to work together and that is why it matters that Rob Ford won't march.

Who knows, maybe Ford is just saving up all of his rainbow glitter for Muskoka Pride.

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