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The rainbow flag is flying above City Hall Monday, after a windy noontime ceremony to mark the official start of Pride Week in Toronto. For the second year in a row, the mayor did not attend.
In his place, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam presided over the flag-raising, and in a speech to the crowd said that while Toronto's queer community has made significant steps towards equality, Pride remains an important symbol for others around the world who are still struggling against intolerance.
"Let's not forget that this sort of thing is only a dream in many parts of the world, including small towns and socially conservative cities in Canada," said Wong-Tam, who is the only openly gay member of council. "Let's not forget that when we raise the rainbow flag in Toronto, a teenager in remote northern Ontario is given a beacon of hope that there is another way of being in this world, and that he or she is not alone."
To underscore the challenges that are still facing gays and lesbians around the world, Pride Toronto appointed Goran Miletic as the international grand marshal for this year's Pride parade. A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Miletic has for years worked to improve the lives of queer people in Eastern Europe where homophobia remains strong. He was on hand for the flag ceremony Monday and received an ovation when he was introduced to the crowd.
Although the mood was mostly celebratory, Rob Ford's absence due to an unspecified scheduling conflict was not lost on the hundreds of people on the City Hall rooftop, who jeered loudly when Councillor Shelley Carroll read out the Pride Week proclamation on his behalf. But more than half of council's 44 members did attend, including close Ford allies like Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, Michael Thompson, Paul Ainslie, and Frances Nunziata.
With Ford declining to show, his deputy mayor was left to defend him against accusations that he's snubbing the queer community. Ford has yet to attend an official Pride Week event since taking office, and has not announced any plans to do so this year.
"I wouldn't say he's turned his back on [the queer community]," Holyday told reporters at the ceremony. "There's a lot of events that the mayor doesn't attend because he simply can't be in all places at the same time. So, a lot of people maybe read more into this than there is, I think."
Holyday also pointed out that last month the mayor put in a surprise appearance at a PFLAG flag-raising to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.
"I know the mayor was quite prominent in that, and I think that was nicely received in the community," Holyday said. "I would think that would be indicative of the fact that he doesn't shun anybody, and he didn't shun the community at that time."
The mayor's absence notwithstanding, there was no shortage of prominent politicians on the City Hall rooftop Monday afternoon. Former
Metro Toronto mayor Barbara Hall, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, Liberal MPP Kathleen Wynne, NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo (who was also named grand marshal for the Pride Parade), and former Ontario Conservative party leader John Tory were all in the crowd.
Pride Week began on June 22 and will end July 1, with the staging of the annual Pride Parade. Now in its 32nd year, the festival is expected to draw 1.2 million attendees.