Dear Mayor Ford,
I hear you’re going to be up at the cottage for Pride this year.
Nor, for that matter, will you be there to read the Pride Proclamation, which is kind of a big deal. (Instead, you’re sending Frances Nunziata, the council speaker who presides over events with the decorum of a weed-whacker.) Nor were you there for the proclamation of the the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a melancholy ceremony that left Brian Burke holding a rainbow flag in the rain before a scraggly audience. Nor will you be there to have anything at all to do with Pride. Instead, you have “long-standing family plans” to be at the cottage.
I’ve got some sympathy on the last count: I have long-standing family cottage plans, too, every year for 20 years. I look forward to it for 51 weeks a year. Only once did I have to miss it, and it killed me, it just killed me. But there was no avoiding it — I was an intern, and I had to work. And so, Mr. Mayor, do you.
Now, in fairness, going to Pride isn’t written anywhere in the City of Toronto Act. You didn’t swear it in your oath of office, and it has nothing to do with gravy or the curtailing thereof. But sometimes your predecessors start a tradition, and then you’re stuck with the choice of either keeping it, or conspicuously breaking it.
I know it would have been easier to sneak off to the cottage with a shrug and say, “Not my problem, but have a nice time!” But mayors do attend pride, and — barring June Rowlands — they have ever since Art Eggleton refused to proclaim Pride in 1985. (This bit of history helps explain why activists take the business of the proclamation so seriously.)
And really, could you be breaking the tradition more conspicuously if you tried? If I was trying to get out of appearing at a world-famous festival that made my heteronormativity go all tingly, I’d at least come up with a decent alibi. If being called to mediate a peace conference in the Sudan is not in the cards, then at least claim you’ve got jury duty. Maybe Flaherty could get you could get appointed to the Senate for the week. Anything would do.
Being Mayor doesn’t mean you never get to have a vacation. It’s not a job that requires you to be at every single community event, opening, commemoration, or parade in the city. But it does require you to be at this one. This is the one you don’t skip.
The mayor doesn’t skip Pride, because Pride is one of the high holidays of Toronto’s civic life. When hundreds of thousands of people come to the city, you should welcome them. Otherwise, people wonder why you’re not welcoming them, and the rest of us have to mumble something about a back-lot in Huntsville and that time you said only gay people get AIDS.
The mayor doesn’t skip Pride, because Pride isn’t just a party, despite those who wonder why everything must be so political. Gay equality isn’t quite as pat and settled as some recent accounts might portray it. I was trying to Google up your cottage’s location and what popped up instead was an anonymous blog full of anonymous comments on the subject. They were all kind of the same:
“The choice is simple: scar his brain with naked fat people in pink body paint or enjoy God’s own wilderness with his loving family,” said one.
“He wants to be with his family and the LGBT are with their community family — What is the problem?” said another.
“The problem,” replied the blogger, “is that the whiners are demanding acceptance rather than tolerance.”
You don’t skip Pride when you’re Rob Ford, because you too have a history of saying dumb, aggressively unpleasant things about gay people. You’ve treated LGBT concerns with a studied disdain as mayor. The benefit of the doubt isn’t yours here. Unless you step up and accept the invitations that are being offered, you’ve lumped yourself in with the average online troll of a supporter.
I don’t know what you really believe. Doug told the Star that you have gay friends, which sounded completely damning but is actually a pretty good first step. I rather suspect you don’t actually think about these things too much. If you come to Pride, you can help lay these fears to rest. If you skip out, every assumption about your real feelings towards gays will be validated.
If anything, you should be immensely grateful that the gay community is going to such lengths to encourage you to attend Pride. Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city councilor for the Village, is encouraging people to write to you — not to reprimand you, but to encourage you to come. It would have been so much easier to let you hang yourself on your own petard: Snubbing minorities is a not a winner in this city. But your loss would have been ours as well.
That’s really the nub of the matter. You don’t skip Pride when you’re the mayor, Mayor, because it’s not about you. This isn’t about your schedule, or your cottage, or whether the carnival of Pride is exactly your cup of tea. (No points deducted if, judged on its own merits, it’s not.)
This is about the office you hold. You were elected as the populist customer-service candidate; we get it. That doesn’t mean you get to shrug off the representative and symbolic parts of the job.
Pride is an event that draws the world to the city, that draws the city together, that loudly affirms a statement about human rights. If you attend Pride, you’ll be holding the city’s flag at an event that’s near its heart. If you flip Pride the finger by skipping it, anti-gay baggage in tow, you’re doing so on behalf of your constituents. Sucks on a long weekend, I know, but that’s the thing about representative democracy: You end up representing.
You chose to run for mayor of a city that throws a giant international festival in celebration of queer life. Toronto comes with Pride. You can’t ignore it now. The cottage will be there next weekend.