I’m gay, which is inconvenient—not for the obvious reasons—but for the sobering reality that many people who know my sexual orientation automatically assume I identify with everyone who shares it. Take the Toronto Pride Parade for example. So Mayor Rob Ford doesn’t want to march in the parade. So what? Call me old fashioned, but since when did our mayor’s civic duties include being hosed down with super soakers by men in diamond-studded cod pieces? Tolerance is a two-way street. If you want the socially conservative mayor to shake your hand, put on some pants.
But Toronto’s left has spoken: gay pride—assless chaps and all—is forever bound to gay rights, and Ford’s pending absence at the annual parade is a direct admission that he considers such rights revocable. In other words, if Ford is not for gay pride, he is definitely not for gay rights—or at the very least, as Pride co-chair Francisco Alvarez suggests, his actions jeopardize them. “There have been a lot of hard-won and incremental gains over the years, for lesbians and gays in this country,” Alvarez told the Toronto Star last week, “but they are all easily reversible.”
Rob Ford is not going to reverse my gains. He is going to the cottage. Apparently, though, this makes him an unapologetic homophobe, whose acquiescence to family tradition is nothing more than a convenient way to snub the gay community. Or is it? Let’s examine the possibilities:
1. Ford really wants to go to the cottage. He has no qualms about assless chaps or nipple tassels; he just likes beer and belly-flopping better. He recognizes that going to Pride is a mayoral tradition (though a relatively new one), but he simply can’t resist the call of his own wild. What does this make him? A poor politician? Maybe (certainly one who isn’t interested in garnering new votes or ingratiating himself to a community that’s not yet onboard with his policies). A Canadian? Yes. A homophobe? Probably not.
2. Ford actually wouldn’t mind going to the parade, but he’s definitely grossed out by assless chaps and nipple tassels, and maybe even the thought of homosexual sex itself. He is not the devil incarnate. He’s just kind of delicate. Like a lot of parents (unless your kids are named Storm or Jazz), Ford may not be comfortable in an environment that mixes free-range genitals with children buying snow cones. Does this make him a prude? Definitely. Does it make him a homophobe? No—not unless you equate disgust with discrimination. I don’t. Cringing at something doesn’t mean you think it should be prohibited. Who knows—Rob might fight to his death for your right to engage in homosexual activity. He’d just rather die than watch you do it. (Unless you’re lesbians.)
3. Ford is in fact deeply homophobic. Gay people repulse him and in his perfect world there wouldn’t be any. His refusal to attend the parade is a cynical political move designed to appease his socially conservative constituents, and as a bonus, remove himself from a “lifestyle” he finds morally repugnant. Where does that leave us? The chair of Queer Ontario’s Political Action Committee, Casey Oraa, told the Star Ford should “own up to his homophobia,” and tell the world exactly how he feels about gays. Oraa and like-minded activists want the mayor to come out as a bigot. Shouldn’t they be proud that a powerful person is afraid to admit he’s homophobic? When gays can come out of the closet, and homophobes have to step inside it, isn’t that cause to celebrate? Frankly, I don’t want Ford to tell the world how he really feels about gay people. I’d prefer he go up north.
Tubing enthusiast, shrinking violet, homophobic opportunist—or a little of each—one thing’s for sure: Rob Ford will not join ranks with the rainbow brigade this weekend. Cannibalism survivor and gay rights darling, Mel Lastman, is confident the mayor will eventually embrace the parade’s more bawdy elements, and one day get a squirt gun of his own. Maybe he will—but he’s not obliged to.
I like Pride. It’s like Spring Break without frat boys; the only time of year my girlfriend and I can kiss publicly without scandalizing or exciting anyone. But to blindly defend the parade’s more salacious and arguably sophomoric overtones—notwithstanding their context in the history of gay activism—is simply naïve. Rob Ford may be a bigoted jerk after all, but his alleged snub has been positively received by many people who are uncomfortable with the promiscuity that characterizes Pride. If Pride’s mandate is to host an epic party, then it should never change; but if its purpose is to advance gay rights—as many anti-Ford activists maintain—then perhaps it’s time for Pride to evolve with the rights it celebrates. Because until the parade looks more like an affirmation of same-sex freedoms than sex itself, important people will seem justified skipping town.