TORONTO - Toronto's scandal-plagued mayor and his bombastic older brother are back in the spotlight after making controversial comments about the city's prominent gay pride festival.
Mayor Rob Ford has often been at loggerheads with Toronto's gay community for his long-standing refusal to take part in the gay pride parade that marches through the downtown core each summer.
Those tensions — which eased slightly after the mayor attended a flag-raising ceremony last summer — flared up again Thursday after both Fords made eyebrow-raising remarks about this year's World Pride parade.
Rob Ford got the ball rolling on Wednesday night at a debate for mayoral hopefuls running in October's municipal election. When asked if he would attend the parade, Ford was unequivocal in his response.
"I'm not going to go to the pride parade," he told the audience. "I've never been to a pride parade. So I'm not going to change the way I am."
In the past, Ford had said his refusal to attend the parade was due to a family tradition of spending the Canada Day long weekend at the cottage.
He has resolutely stayed away from the festival's headline event since taking office in 2011, though he did attend a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall to launch last year's festivities.
The mayor's remarks prompted criticism from the public and at least one fellow city councillor — Shelley Carroll — who accused him of "thinly veiled homophobia."
In what has become a tradition in its own right, his brother stepped out to field the criticism and fanned the flames of controversy with remarks of his own.
Coun. Doug Ford denied that either he or his brother were homophobic, but then described the event as one characterized by "middle-aged men with pot bellies running down the street buck naked."
Doug Ford went on to say that the event is one that some, including him, may feel uncomfortable participating in with their children.
Both he and his brother have homosexual friends and understand that the festival has potential to bring in valuable tourism dollars, said Doug Ford, but he went on to offer a personal criticism of the flagship parade.
"Do I condone men running down the middle of Yonge St. buck naked? Absolutely not. Maybe there are some people in this city that approve of that. Maybe they can bring their kids down to watch this."
Doug Ford said that his support for the event would be more enthusiastic if people would "clothe themselves."
Condemnation from the city's gay community was swift and vocal.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of gay rights advocacy group Egale Canada, said the mayor's unwillingness to attend the parade shows about as much respect for the community as its members now have for him.
"There's nothing thinly veiled about it. It's overt homophobia," she said. "... At this stage, I don't think the community would want him to appear at the pride parade. Really, there's no added value to having him."
Social media was abuzz with reactions to the brothers' remarks.
Many people took to Twitter to castigate the pair for comments they described as ignorant and out of date. One user wrote that if Doug Ford had ever attended the parade he would know that "there are more parents and children than naked men."
But the Fords did find some supporters on social media, with one claiming in a tweet that Doug Ford was right about about not wanting to see "butnaked men," adding, "I couldn't bring my gay friend to the Pride cuz he said `we're proud not trash!`"
Organizers of World Pride 2014 issued a sarcastic tweet in response to the Mayor's debate remarks.
"We thank @TOMayorFord for his RSVP, and look forward to hosting another successful event in his absence," read a post from the event's official Twitter account.
Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of festival organizing body Pride Toronto, said it was unusual for an invitation to be declined months before it has been issued.
He said Pride's board generally extends invitations to all elected officials and mayoral prospects, adding no decision has yet been made on whether to make an exception for the Ford brothers.
He said he hoped their colourful commentary would not detract from the "true diversity" the festival helps to showcase every year.
"Pride is many things to many people, but it is an incredibly welcoming place for families," he said. "In fact, one of the most welcoming places I can imagine in the city because we welcome all sorts of families."
Thursday's controversy was swirling at the same time as the Fords announced a new foray into the world of broadcasting.
Months after their "Ford Nation" television show was pulled from Sun News Network after just one episode, the brothers announced they would be relaunching the concept on YouTube.
The series will debut on Feb. 10, according to a release from the mayor's office. In a preview posted Thursday, Rob Ford asked prospective voters to judge him on his record rather than his personal life.
World Pride 2014 is slated to take place between Jun. 20 and 29.
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