In the City of Toronto, the Office of Protocol serves an important symbolic gesture on behalf of Torontonians on a daily basis. For instance, in the month of May, there are days proclaimed for the Asian community of Toronto, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Awareness Day as well as Police Week. On rare occasions, a flag or a pennant of international countries independence as well as an important humanitarian group is raised.
The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia is the latest recipient of this gesture. The rainbow flag was raised earlier this week at City Hall. The event sponsored by the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), has hosted the well-attended event for several years. There have been many Torontonians from all walks of life who have come to show their support for the community as well as for the important issue of human rights.
This year, I attended the event for the first time. In many ways, the event is a wonderful opportunity that highlights the richness and diversity of Toronto. With many inspiring speakers, it was city councillor Janet Davis who captivated the audience. She paid tribute to her gay son who came out of the closet a year ago. A new member of PFLAG, a support group for parents of lesbians and gays, she spoke of all the worries initially had as she debated how it was going to affect her political career. She was encouraged by councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, council's only openly gay member, to be a supportive parent to her son as well as be an example to other parents by being an exemplary parent. This year, she went public with her story.
The reality is that the GLBTQ community is in need of support as it faces many challanges. According to a recent survey conducted by 519 Church Street Community Center, 77 per cent of Trans Ontarians have thought of committing suicide while 43 per cent have attempted suicide. This is a shocking reality as the Ontario government is looking at anti-bullying legislation that would force publicly-funded schools to accept gay-straight clubs.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who had sent his regrets earlier, literally surprised many as well as the media when he showed up to read the proclamation unexpected. This is the first time the mayor had attended a gay friendly event since he became mayor, and he received a warm welcome from the audience. His stubborn refusal to attend previous events had been a black eye for the city.
The proclamation read in part:
Whereas the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom recognizes that no discrimination shall be made on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identities. Toronto is an active participant in the fight for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and is committed to equal treatment of all people and their right to live in conditions of dignity, respect and peace.
For most, that was a powerful statement coming straight from the Mayor of Toronto. For LGBT community activist Doug Kerr, Mayor Fords appearance "will not improve his image in the LGBT community and It doesn't impress me much but it's a first step for Ford."
Why is a minor symbolic gesture important to the community? According to Councillor Adam Vaughn, his refusal to attend in the past "unleashed a horrible amount of vitriol and spite that people felt emboldened to express."
For a city whose motto is -- "Diversity Our Strength" -- it seemed a high price to pay for Mayor Ford not to respect previous invitations to such an important event. His small gesture was a great mayoralty civic obligation that needed to be fulfilled. I am sure many are anticipating the encore performance in the weeks to come.