CANADA
02/06/2014 11:28 EST | Updated 04/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Rob Ford will not attend World Pride

Mayor Rob Ford won't be attending Toronto's week-long World Pride Festival this summer.

The celebration of gay, lesbian, bi- and transsexual and queer communities around the world will take place during Pride week, June 20 to 29. The World Pride designation means the yearly Pride Festival will take on a global focus, and is expected to draw more than the usual 1.2 million estimated attendees.

Ford has historically said he cannot attend because he goes to his family cottage the weekend of the parade. At a debate at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus on Wednesday night, he gave a different reason for not attending.

"I’m not going to go to the Pride parade. I’ve never gone to a Pride parade. I’m not going to change the way I am," he said in response to a question from an audience member.

Ford's most prominent mayoral rival, David Soknacki, said he would attend the festival. 

Toronto — which submitted its bid in 2009 — will become the first North American city to host the event.

Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of Toronto Pride, said the mayor's comments "came as a bit of a surprise," since invitations have yet to be sent. "Pride cares a great deal about civic leaders coming to their events," he said.

Regardless of Ford's statement about attending the festival, there is a question as to whether Ford would be invited at all.

"We don't typically exclude people," he said, "but we'd have to take into account his comments on videos."

Beaulieu said Ford's comments on the recent video taken at Etobicoke's Steak Queen were "clearly homophobic."

Coun. Shelley Carroll for Don Valley East, an adversary of the mayor on most issues, described Ford's refusal to attend World Pride as "thinly-veiled homophobia."