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Rob Ford joined dozens of his council colleagues and Premier Kathleen Wynne at the flag ceremony for the beginning of Pride Week on Monday, marking the first time in the mayor's tenure that he has attended an official event at the LGBTQ festival.
Ford walked out onto the roof of City Hall to polite applause from the hundreds of people gathered for the ceremony, and read from a prepared statement proclaiming the start of the 10-day queer festival.
"In a world often marred by clashes between people who see differences as a reason for conflict, Pride Week is a time to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness and understanding," Ford said. "Now therefore I, Mayor Rob Ford, on behalf of Toronto city council, do hereby proclaim June 21 to 30 as Pride Week in the city of Toronto."
Last year Ford made an unscheduled appearance at the flag-raising for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and returned to the same event this year. But until Monday he has eschewed all Pride functions, including its hugely popular parade.
Mayor Ford's relationship with the city's queer community has historically been a rocky one. His refusal to attend the annual Pride Parade has provoked strong criticism, even from his allies, and two weeks ago he was one of only three council members to vote against $7 million in funding for a group of cultural organizations that included Pride.
At least one person jeered the mayor repeatedly when he took to the podium Monday, but other attendees shouted her down.
Before Ford took centre stage, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam gave a speech of her own, in which she said that the iconic rainbow flag "represents a quality of life that each LGBT person dreams about and strives for."
"Each member of our community wants, needs, fights for, and has fought for freedom, equality and social inclusion," said Wong-Tam, who is council's only openly gay member. "LGBTQ people have been forced to advocate for basic human rights, human rights that are automatically conferred to others.
"When we raise the rainbow flag in Toronto, we remind employers, citizens, landlords, corporations, communities and neighbourhoods that our great city welcomes everyone, and everyone belongs in the city of Toronto."
Afterwards, Wong-Tam said she was pleased the mayor had shown up, but declared that he did so "under a cloud" because of his anti-funding vote and his previous decision to avoid Pride.
"But this community has always been full of acceptance and love, and we will extend that to the mayor as well," she said.
Francisco Alvarez, co-chair of Pride Toronto, said he was "absolutely" happy that Ford came to the event.
"We're pleased and we're grateful, but I think he needs to earn back a little bit more trust in the community," Alvarez said.
He suggested Ford could attend some of the LGBTQ events he is invited to throughout the year in order to show that sees queer citizens as an important constituency.
As Ford made his way back into City Hall after the ceremony, he would not answer reporters' questions about why he decided to attend. But his brother Councillor Doug Ford, who has publicly urged the mayor to take part in Pride, said that his sibling has "evolved as mayor" since he was elected in 2010.
Councillor Ford appeared much more at ease at the event than his brother, hugging a costumed woman and at one point waving a rainbow flag as he stood next to an uncomfortable-looking Premier Wynne, who he has mercilessly criticized of late.
Doug also offered up the services of his family label-making company. "Anything Pride needs, if they need labels printed, label donation, I'd be more than happy to do that," he said.
The theme for this year's Pride festival is "Superqueer." It's the 33rd instalment of the event, which attracts about 1.2 million people to its parties and performances across the city every year. The centrepiece parade will take place on Sunday, June 30. Wynne, who is Ontario's first openly lesbian provincial leader, is expected to become the first premier to march in the procession.
Video shot by Jonathan Goldsbie.