Rob Ford attends the Pride flag-raising June 24, 2013. Photo by Ben Spurr.
Rob Ford's refusal to attend WorldPride this summer is being condemned as "thinly-veiled homophobia."
In the first all-candidates event of the 2014 election Wednesday night, Ford was asked whether he would attend the global queer festival, which Toronto is hosting for the first time this year.
The mayor has famously skipped the Toronto Pride Parade every year of his term, claiming that it conflicts with his family tradition of spending Canada Day weekend at the cottage. But on Wednesday, Ford framed his WorldPride snub as simply a matter of preference.
"I'm not going to go to the Pride parade," Ford said at the event hosted at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Student Centre. "I've never gone to a Pride parade. So I'm not going to change the way I am."
Thursday morning, Councillor Shelley Carroll declared that the statement is confirmation that Ford is homophobic.
The councillor, who is believed to be considering a mayoral bid, cited the mayor's record of voting against grants for HIV prevention programs and his infamous 2006 suggestion that only gay men and drug users get the disease. She went so far as to compare Ford to Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose anti-gay laws have caused outcry around the world.
Carroll believes that as the October election approaches, Ford has given up appealing to new voters and is directing his message squarely at his conservative base.
"The mayor's new slogan is ‘I won't change, not now, not ever,'" she said. "Start with the thinly-veiled homophobia and make a list of the things you think really should change in the mayor and his leadership. They're not changing. He said so."
The executive director of Pride Toronto, which is hosting WorldPride, called Ford's snub "presumptuous."
"Frankly it was a bit of a surprise because we haven't invited him yet," said Kevin Beaulieu. According to him, no invitations have been issued for the event, but he suggested Ford might not be getting one anyway.
"There is a very recent history of homophobic comments on video, and we would have to think about that very carefully before any specific invitation was issued," he said.
Beaulieu wouldn't repeat the comments he was referring to, but cited both the crack video in which Ford reportedly called Justin Trudeau a "fag," and recent footage of the mayor's inebriated appearance at the Steak Queen restaurant. In that video, the mayor appears to call Police Chief Bill Blair a "cocksucker."
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who has taken over many of the mayor's duties in the wake of Ford's ongoing drug and gang scandal, plans to attend WorldPride. He told reporters the mayor's comments were "regrettable."
"But I think the leadership of this council will be in complete support of the event," Kelly said. "This is a chance for all Torontonians to get together and show themselves on the world stage as open and caring people."
Kelly refused to say if he thought Ford's remarks were homophobic. "You would hope not," he said.
Mayor Ford was not at City Hall Thursday morning. His spokesperson told reporters he was not feeling well and was taking the day off.
But Councillor Doug Ford, his brother, defended his decision not to attend.
"He's not homophobic, he has friends who are gay. He just chooses not to go," said Councillor Ford, adding that the mayor might attend the Pride flag-raising this year for a second time.
Councillor Ford also claimed that his brother has supported Pride by voting to fund it. In fact, last June the mayor was one of only three council members who cast a vote against giving grants to a dozen cultural organizations, including Pride Toronto.
The councillor then unleashed a stream of bizarre criticism on the Pride Parade, which he described as inappropriate because it features "buck-naked men running down the street." He repeated the phrase several times.
He claimed he brought his children to the event once but "I wouldn't bring my kids back when there's buck-naked men running down the street."
"I'm not dissing anyone in the gay community," he said. "There's a lot of great people that make up the city in the gay community, which are friends of mine, but no, do I condone men running down the middle of Yonge Street buck-naked? Absolutely not."
WorldPride is considered the biggest queer festival in the world and has been held every few years since 2000. The Toronto edition will take place between June 20 and 29, and marks the first time the event will be held in North America.
Beaulieu expects it to be bigger than Toronto's annual Pride Week, which he said was attended by 1.2 million people and generated $286 million for the economy last year.