Ford won't attend Pride: 'I'm not going to change the way I am'
Rob Ford doesn't plan on attending this year's Pride parade, or any other year, but his brother insists the mayor is not homophobic.
At a student-run mayoral debate Wednesday night at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus, the mayor was asked whether he will be attending the annual summer festival.
"I’m not going to go to (the) Pride parade. I've never gone to a Pride parade, so I’m not going to change the way I am," Ford said Wednesday.
In contrast, fellow mayoral candidates David Soknacki, Robb Johannes, Al Gore and Richard Underhill -- all of whom were also participating in Wednesday's event -- said they would be attending the parade.
"Yes, if I get a super soaker, I'd be happy to be part of Pride," former city councillor Soknacki said to cheers and applause.
Johannes said it would be unthinkable not to attend the annual event. "How could I not? That's just irresponsible to not go to Pride."
Since taking office in 2010, Ford has never attended the city's Pride parade, which celebrates the diversity of Toronto's LGBT community.
In past years he has said that the parade coincides with a traditional family trip he takes every year to his cottage. But during Wednesday’s debate, he indicated he never wanted to attend Pride.
On Thursday, his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, came out in defence of his brother’s decision, saying it’s up to him whether he wants to attend.
"He's just not going to march in the parade," the councillor said Thursday afternoon at city hall. "That's his choice. He hasn't marched ever before. He does support the fact that it's going to be a large event. He does support on voting for funding it."
He also insisted his brother is not homophobic, that he has gay friends, and pointed out that last year the mayor participated in a Pride flag-raising ceremony at City Hall.
The councillor said he's spoken to members of the gay community who've said they themselves aren't planning on attending because they didn't like the idea of "middle-aged men with pot-bellies running down the street buck naked."
In an attempt to clarify his remarks, the councillor said he didn't think some of the Pride activities were family-friendly.
"In certain aspects it might be (family-friendly), but not when guys are running down the street buck naked. That's the bottom line," he said.
Starting June 20, Toronto will host WorldPride – a nine day festival that looks at issues facing the LGBT community on an international level. Other cities that have hosted WorldPride include Rome, Jerusalem and London.
Executive Director of Pride Toronto Kevin Beaulieu said he was surprised to hear that the mayor would not be attending the parade because the organization has not yet issued any invitations.
"There may be a bit of presumption there," Beaulieu told reporters Thursday afternoon at city hall. "Nonetheless, we are going to move forward. Our community is strong and ready to host the world at WorldPride."
Candidates discuss transit priorities at debate
Another issue that came up during Wednesday's debate was transit, particularly the task of bringing improved transit services to Scarborough.
Ford told the crowd of that he has never "flip-flopped" the idea of subways.
"I said we were going to get a subway to Scarborough and we are getting a subway to Scarborough," he said to cheers and applause.
The mayor led the charge at city hall last year, to build a shorter and more expensive subway extension in Scarborough, rather than a previously approved longer, cheaper light-rail transit line.
Last October, city council voted in favour of the subway extension over the LRT line.
Soknacki, who opposes building a subway into Scarborough, said that if elected he would look to have the LRT line built instead.
"Given the circumstances of the neighbourhoods to serve, the populations to serve, the cost (and) getting transit faster, cheaper, better … in these circumstances is better with an LRT," he said.
Sarah Worku, president of the UTS Students' Union, told CTV Toronto that she was surprised by the turnout.
"I did not expect as many students to get involved and come out, and they all came out with fantastic questions, so I'm definitely happy with the event," she said.