Mayor’s exec endorses LGBTQ2S+ advisory body at city hall

Oct. 24, 2017

By Arianne Robinson

Just months after one of the most emotional and controversial debates of the year about whether to pull funding for the Pride parade, Mayor John Tory’s Executive Committee moved a plan forward to create an advisory body that will focus solely on providing advice on LGBTQ2S+ issues.

Council once had a Community Advisory Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, part of the Policy and Finance Committee (which also encapsulated the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, Status of Women Committee, and the Race and Ethnic Relations Committee). Toronto Cycling and Toronto Pedestrian had their own committees, but all ended in 2006, except the Aboriginal Affairs Committee.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam first brought the idea to council in July as a member’s motion.

“The motive for the [creation of this advisory body] is to really try to find a way to create a forum at city hall that members of the LGTB community who are service providers and service leaders will be able to respond to government policy and to shape that government policy based on their lived experience or their professional experience.”

Wong-Tam also hopes it will be a body that will respond to policies on everything from health, housing, shelter, and employment training. When asked, she says she suspects it would also advise on Pride, but that is just one part.

“The LGBT community is so much more than Pride,” Wong-Tam said before the committee. “In the conversations I have with the service providers in the community, we’re concerned about LGBT income equality, we’re concerned about health services, we’re really concerned about an aging population of LGBT people who are living in isolation and in poverty, we are concerned about LGBT youth, who are finding their way to Toronto dropping out of school, the suicide rates – there’s a whole range of concerns that go beyond Pride. Pride is one of them but it’s not the primary anchor.”

For Mark Smith, co-chair of Toronto Seniors Forum on LGBT issues and former staff and later board member at Pride, the creation of such a body is about the importance of understanding and using the right language when talking about related issues.

“I still hear people referring to transsexuals as drag queens; it’s like, that’s the furthest thing from it, so we need to be able to keep adjusting that, and if we can get city council to start speaking the right language then it starts reaching out into the community a bit more.”

Smith thinks mishaps in language can be perceived as discrimination when really the problem is not having the right language. Amazingly, he even thinks the former mayor Rob Ford deserves a break.

“The lack of understanding comes across as hate. Like Rob Ford, bless his heart. I don’t think he hated anything, but he came across as a racist homophobic all the time, but it’s just because [of] the language he used.”

Asked what he meant, Smith said Ford spoke in a way that reflected his upbringing. “I met Rob Ford many, many times. He was a really nice guy.”

The new advisory group is a long way away, with a plan to consult over the next year until the committee is established next term.