Can we please end this thing?
I hope to be attending Toronto's 10-day Pride Week, now underway, as I have intermittently since its founding 31 years ago. Now it's one of world's biggest celebrations of minority sexual orientation, and the central Canadian value of civility in embracing diversity. Toronto was recently the winning bidder to host the first WorldPride in North America, in 2014. WorldPride is an Olympics-style extravaganza combining entertainment with conferences on human rights and other issues.
Rob Ford after a meeting with Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Burke will participate in this year's Pride Week parade in honour of his late son, who died tragically last year and was gay. Did the two men discuss the mayor's reluctance to attend Pride Week activities? Ford was, as usual, almost playfully coy, saying what the two men discussed is confidential and that he has completely shut the door on attending. (Toronto Star photo)
After a series of mayors who recognized the great value to our city of this diversity and of our LBGT community in particular by attending Pride Week festivities, finally we have one who'd rather not go. Not greet the more than one million Pride Week visitors. And here I thought the role of civic greeter was the biggest part of a job which for most of our mayors has been ceremonial. (To wit: Art Eggleton, whose non-ceremonial achievements can be recorded on the inside cover of a matchbook with room for the unabridged Magna Carta left over.)
By now, I'd rather Rod Ford didn't go. The farce and humiliation of watching for days as various people of goodwill have tried to talk the mayor into doing the right thing finally have me at the point of retching.
The principle here is so plain. We no longer, as a matter of practice and of law, discriminate against gays. Which makes it tough to treat as subhuman Jews, women, Catholics, the hearing impaired, Muslims, Tamils, the literally short-sighted (me, for instance), the blue-eyed (me again), the aged, suburbanites, Bohemians, sweaty construction workers who keep our city in fine repair. Bigotry does start as fear of the unknown, and is grounded in pure ignorance. But this manifests itself as a regard for "the other" as a lesser being. Conversely, a caring society starts with an intolerance for discrimination against Ukrainian Jews and Filipino Catholics. And by logical progression, we no longer tolerate date rape, sexist "jokes," pedophilic priests and, most recently, the schoolyard bullying that impairs a young person's self-esteem.
The gay rights movement reached its zenith in the late 1970s, when I was writing about it for my student newspaper at Ryerson. At that time, Metro's Finest were still raiding bathhouses for kicks. But we grew up. We had a savage attack on gays in High Park that gave the entire city pause, and that was pretty much the end of the sick ritual of "going downtown to beat up queers." Then came HIV/AIDS, in those early mid-1980s years a death sentence for friends whom we discovered only when they fell sick happened to be gay. And the fact that many heroic figures were gay became part of their life story in contemporary biographies, that aspect of their lives no longer covered up or hinted at in silly ways. ("He was a fan of Judy" was one of the earliest and most prevalent code terms, a reference to a disproportionate gay attraction to Judy Garland, later supplanted by Barbra Streisand.) The question arose, or at least that's how I look at it: Do I want to live in a world without Cole Porter and John Maynard Keynes, the greatest economist in history?
Having watched this enobling evolution, perfectly in sync with Toronto's welcome embrace of every nationality and culture in the world, has been a great joy in my life. Recall that Mel Lastman once had reservations about attending an African summit for fear of becoming some tribe's dinner. That Lastman, of all people, would lecture Ford the other day that he should attend Pride was uplifting and, for Ford, shaming.
Lastman didn't participate in Pride Week his first year in office, 1997, but had a change of heart after talking with his family:
Once Ford does go into it, and does it, I think he'll like it. I think he'll have a lot of fun. They're happy, they're celebrating their gay pride day, and they want him there...My son said, 'Look dad, you're the mayor of all the people, and you should be there.' And I was there. And I'm glad I was there. I enjoyed it.
It shouldn't matter, but it doesn't help, that with Ford in office our city remains in fiscal crisis, with a debt of $4.4 billion and growing. We suffer North America's worst traffic congestion. Many of our schools, particularly those of early 20th-century vintage, are in disrepair. Our waterfront remains estranged from this ostensibly Great Lakes city. Our public transit system, in a city largely populated by recent immigrants utterly dependent on it, and with a GTA population largely stranded in public-transit-challenged suburbs, is woefully deficient, as superbly run as it is within its diminutive confines.
I haven't seen Ford move the ball downfield on any of these or the many other challenges and opportunities in this town. So it's all of a piece that he invites us to woo him to attend an annual ritual that reconfirms our humanity. each day Ford says it's a "day by day" thing as to whether he'll attend some part of the 10-day Pride Week.
We're begging our mayor to do the right thing. That is pathetic. If the man doesn't get it, well, whom among us who voted against Ford is surprised? And who really expects a man our mayor's age to do a 180 on one of his core values, which apparently is not to be around people he regards as icky.
So don't go already, and say so. Today. And life goes on. Ford has but one vote on a 44-member city council. Carrying on this way as he has since taking office, it won't be long before he's even more incidental to the affairs of the city than most mayors.
And in that spirit, my apologies for too long a post. I can't resist adding, though, that Mayor John Sewell once stayed home to build a bookcase instead of attending the funeral of a slain Toronto police officer. John, whom I worshipped as a friend of the disadvantaged and an historic neighbourhood perservationist, was a one-term mayor. He was out of sync with a core value of our city. Not a good place to be if, like Ford, this is one of the very few things you have to show for your time in office.