Tory kicks off Pride month, hopes last week’s council debate will not be repeated

2:16 p.m. May 31, 2017. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam speaks to the crowd at Toronto city hall following Mayor John Tory’s proclamation of Pride Month.

May 31, 2017

On Toronto City Hall’s podium roof on Wednesday, Mayor John Tory proclaimed June as Pride Month. The celebration happened just days following last week’s day-long council debate over whether city should continuing funding arts programming that occurs during the weeks that lead up to the parade. (The debate ended in continued support.)

Who marches in Pride Parade has been a contentious issue in recent years at Toronto City Hall. Council members have previously argued over which groups should and shouldn’t be allowed to march (such as with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), and taken issue with Mayor Rob Ford’s refusal to march at all (he had plans at the cottage). That legacy was remembered today in its own way. Following Tory’s proclamation, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam almost said Mayor Ford in her remarks. “Thank you Mayor Fo – Mayor Tory, for the proclamation.” The word trip up was not lost on the crowd, who reacted with groans. “Hang on tight,” Wong-Tam said. The crowd’s response turned to laughter.

Tory’s remarks were focused on safety and security. “As long as I am the mayor of Toronto, and I know I speak for my council colleagues, you will have an outspoken ally, you will have outspoken allies, and friends. Like all Toronto residents I want you to feel safe, just like everybody else in this city should feel safe, and I want you to feel engaged and I want you to feel respected,” the mayor said.

“I want you to work with me to ensure that Toronto maintains its reputation as a place of inclusion and leadership on LGBTQ2S issues.”

That idea of inclusion is embedded in the use of the longer acronym of LGBTTIQQ2SA, used in the City’s official wording of the proclamation. “Pride Month celebrates the history, courage and diversity of Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two Spirited communities and Allies (LGBTTIQQ2SA),” it states on the city’s website.

However if you ask Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, to define the A in the longer acronym, she says it means asexual, and that ally isn’t what Pride is about. “[The acronym] is not a description of who’s with us, it’s a description of the people themselves. Ally is a point of view. Being asexual is a way of life.”

As for the inclusion of the two ‘Ts’ for transsexual as well as transgender in the city’s definition of the acronym, Nuamah says the difference between the two terms is important. “Being transsexual is not necessarily gender questioning, it’s sexual. Being transgender is a question of essentially what body you’re born in as opposed to what body you feel comfortable.”

Pride Toronto’s theme this year, a plus symbol, honours those differences. “Plus honours the fact that each one of us adds something important to Pride,” Alica Hall, Pride board of directors co-chair, said to the hundreds that had gathered to watch the Pride flag raising. “We’re asking you all to join us this year, add your voice, add your joy, add your intersectionality, add your glitter – as we celebrate the best of who we are as a community and as a city.”

The City of Toronto proclamation also states an intention to help end discrimination. “The City of Toronto is at the forefront of efforts to eliminate poverty, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, homelessness, hate crimes, hunger and illiteracy, while empowering individuals and communities to stand up against hatred, intolerance and discrimination.”

Following the flag raising, Tory spoke with reporters. When asked how council’s day-long debate helped to achieve the goal of the eliminating homophobia stated in the proclamation, Tory said, “Let’s just put it this way — look, these debates go on. I don’t think the debate did anything to move us forward in terms of making further progress, as we must as a city, in terms of respecting and advancing the rights of people.”

When pressed further on whether the debate at council sets it back, the mayor said, “It’s hard for me to judge that. As I said, I don’t think it helped, and so I’ll leave it at that, and just hope that it was the last debate of its kind that we’ll have, and that next year we can be debating some of these issues and some of these challenges that are faced by these communities, as opposed to debating issues of funding or that sort of thing.”