Friday, May 18, 2012

A Pretty Good Birthday, All in All

The rainbow flag against the clock of "Old City Hall"

Yesterday was another gorgeous day in a May that has been full of them. First thing in the morning, I opened my card and a couple of prezzies from Sarah (a Wii game and a great movie trivia book from TCM) and saw her off to work. I spent most of the rest of the morning hanging out with Addie, doing some writing, reading and answering a flood of birthday wishes (I have some amazing friends) and catching up on news. Just before noon I headed down to Nathan Phillips Square for the 12:30 raising of the rainbow flag in honour of the International Day Against Homophobia (and Transphobia), or IDAHO. I was disappointed to learn earlier in the day that Brian Burke had decided to skip this event so that he could fly to Oklahoma City for a game last night involving the Marlies, the Maple Leafs' minor-league team. It seemed to me he could have done both quite easily; he completely missed the NHL draft last summer because he decided that would be a good time for a visit to the troops in Afghanistan so there's certainly precedent for him choosing personal commitment over his "job". But Burke will likely be in the Pride parade again this year, so I guess some slack should be cut. I mean, it's not like he's the mayor of the city who won't attend any events involving Toronto's LGBT community.

Or at least that's what we all thought before yesterday.

A button I was given at the event
I ran into a bit of traffic on the way downtown and a trip that ordinarily would take me 15 minutes took over a half an hour. As a result, I arrived at the event too late to see the actual raising of the flag and hear the proclamation, which was to be read by Coun. Gord Perks "on behalf" of the absentee mayor. When I got there I chose a spot behind the crowd and stood on a bench to get a better view. My ward's representative, Janet Davis, was talking about how she "came out" at this event last year as the parent of a gay child (her son) and it was quite moving indeed. When she finished speaking, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam (my absolute favourite person on council) took over for a bit. She was hard to hear as she said she had a cold and her voice was quite raw, but I managed to get most of what she was saying. She explained why May 17 was chosen as the annual day for IDAHO (on May 17, 1990, the WHO removed homosexuality from its list of diseases). At one point it sounded to me as if she named all the councillors and "the mayor of Toronto, our mayor, the mayor of all the people" and this received some warm applause. I found that to be a little odd, considering "our mayor" has gone out of his way to have nothing whatsoever to do with the huge gay community in Toronto. By the way, a quick note about Wong-Tam: she is the only openly gay member of Toronto city council and yet I actually didn't realize she was gay until I put two and two together from something she said earlier in the week. And really, isn't that the point?

After Coun. Wong-Tam finished some other people spoke - people with whom I am not familiar and couldn't really hear. One of them was an LGBT liaison officer for the Toronto Police but try as I might I cannot find her name online. Then it came time for Jim Callahan, "a proud PFLAG dad", to read the message from Brian Burke.

RoFo leaving the PFLAG event
As he started to read I caught sight of some movement on my right and my attention turned to a throng of people pushing through the crowd, all surrounding a large man in a dark suit. I watched as the group got closer, then my jaw just dropped open when I realized that I was looking at Rob Ford heading away from the event. Somehow I managed to recover enough to turn on my camera and get this picture of him (I guess just to prove to myself later that I hadn't been hallucinating) and watched as he headed back to his office in City Hall, smiling all the way but answering (from what I could tell) absolutely no questions. It was a supremely surreal experience; I had no idea that he had been there all along. Of course, Coun. Wong-Tam's remarks made a lot more sense after that.

A much bigger crowd than last year, from all accounts
I found out much later that Ford had actually arrived moments before Coun. Perks was to read the proclamation on his behalf (Perks himself said he found out "ten seconds" before he was to go up to the mic that the mayor was there) and the tweets from that time bear this out. Everyone seemed stunned and confused on Twitter; some people said that the mayor was there and standing behind Perks as he read the proclamation, only to quickly tweet that Ford was actually reading it himself. As you can see from the videos here, he was very warmly received indeed. Someone shouted out from the crowd, "How do you feel?" and he responded, "Great, really great!" And you know, good for him for doing the right thing. I am not going to "congratulate" him for being there yesterday as it really should never have been in doubt; however, profound changes in one's belief system are difficult and rarely do they happen quickly, as I spoke of in a blog post I made when Obama backed same-sex marriages. I am very happy that the mayor of my city was there yesterday and I hope it has opened the door for him to be more progressive in his thoughts in the future. Time will tell. There were, predictably, a great many people that wanted to bash him for showing up at an event that "he should have agreed to attend all along"; however, what is the point of that? We begged him to do the right thing here; when he actually did it he should be thanked and not attacked. Did he become the story? Well, he became much of it, yes, but that's the negative way of looking at it. The positive spin: the event yesterday was not only attended by about 20 times as many people as last year's because of the controversy of Ford saying he would not attend, but when he did show up it made the event the top story on almost all of the local newscasts, which is more publicity for PFLAG than they could really have ever expected. This is a good thing.

My favourite local journalist, Edward Keenan, was there and had similar views to mine. Hamutal Dotan, writing in the Torontoist, had perhaps even a better take on it. Whatever one's view is of the whole situation, it was still a pretty exciting thing to have witnessed - or, in my case, almost witnessed. At least I was in a great spot to see Ford leaving. And the timing of his leaving has made me start to wonder about something: Ford didn't attend this event last year while Burke did. He didn't attend the Pride parade, again attended by Burke. He only showed up at the very last moment yesterday and we didn't discover Burke was going to miss this event until very late in the morning, which was also a surprise. And then Ford left while Burke's statement was being read. Do you suppose there is any possible chance that Ford has some kind of a feud going with Burke? Knowing the public traits of both of these men, I certainly will not discount that possibility out of hand. Let's see what the future brings and remember, if it turns out to be true: you heard it here first.

Almost anticlimactically, I still had quite a bit of birthday time left and I spent it well. From City Hall I dropped by "What a Bagel" to get my free dozen bagels. I chose the location in the Spadina Village, because I often went there (the Village, not that bagel shop) with John Rose and his mom, Mimi, whom I wrote about on Mother's Day. I also bought some cream cheese to take home and a corned beef on rye to not take home. Yummy! I had a couple of other stops to make and returned home late afternoon to a cat that was really happy to see me. We popped out on the balcony for a short time and then waited for "mommy" to come home. We ordered Swiss Chalet Delivery for dinner (also yummy - I had a slice of cake with mine!) and settled in to watch not one, not two, but three episodes of our favourite currently-running show, Community, which wrapped up this season for them. The first of these involved them "going 8-bit" and being inside a video game; this was just about the best thing I have seen on television in a long, long time.

And then, just like that, the day was over. Another birthday come and gone and, while I like to say that they are all pretty insignificant from here on in (except the decade milestones), the truth of the matter is that no birthday is really "insignificant". It's been a tough year but I lived through it and somehow still have my friends, my family and my (relative) sanity to show for it. If I can say exactly the same thing next year, it will be enough.

Have a fantastic May Two-Four Weekend, everybody - the real "first days of summer" in Canada.


  1. How cool that you were there for this event, especially because the mayor's appearance was unexpected. Nice button!

    1. Thanks! I asked for the "brightest colour they had" and they offered me orange because they were out of pink. I really like it!


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