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Ford’s rage over rainbow flag brings city further humiliation

The thing that is most inspiring about these Olympics – more inspiring in its way than the usual exhibitions of national pride and international brotherhood on display at Friday's opening ceremonies – is the way people have come together to support the rights of gays and lesbians.

Ten years ago, this would not have happened. But the gay rights revolution has advanced with such speed that when Vladimir Putin's regime began its ugly campaign against "homosexual propaganda," there was such a blast of protest that even the mighty Mr. Putin must have been shaken.

Government figures, athletes, authors, sports organizations, human-rights groups – all of them made it clear that they condemn the attitude of the Russian authorities, stand in solidarity with Russia's LGBTQ community and will not tolerate any hint of homophobia at the games.

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That is what makes what happened in Toronto on Friday so disgraceful. By throwing a tantrum about the raising of the rainbow flag over City Hall, Mayor Rob Ford set himself apart and embarrassed his city once again. Mayors around Canada have raised the flag. He wants to pull ours down.

After hearing about the flag-raising, which went through all the proper channels, a clearly peeved Mr. Ford marched out the front door to inspect the Canadian flag he had draped on the window of his office. The Olympics, he says, are about patriotism, not "sexual preference."

But to state what is obvious to everyone but him, there is no contradiction between rooting for Canadian athletes and protesting against the treatment of gays and lesbians in Russia. The protest does not drown out the cheering. The flag-raising was a small and wholly appropriate gesture of moral support. The flag went up on a ceremonial flagpole. The official Canadian flag continued to fly on its own, taller pole.

In some ways, this episode was worse than the other humiliations Mr. Ford has brought on his city. Those were about his dubious behaviour. This is about his dubious attitudes.

Questions about his views on gay people have hovered over him like a cloud since he first declined to take part in the annual Pride parade. They grew when reports last spring about the infamous crack video said he could be overheard making an anti-gay slur.

This week, he added fuel to the suspicion when he said would never go to a Pride parade. When asked before why he skipped it, he has said he always goes to the family cottage on that weekend. This time, he said simply: "I'm not going to go to the Pride parade. I've never been to a Pride parade. I can't change who I am."

His brother Doug said the mayor is not homophobic and even – imagine that – has gay friends. But the mayor himself has said or done nothing to counteract the growing impression that he harbours a prejudice. Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city councillor and gay-rights activist who has tried patiently to gain the mayor's support, used the word "bigoted" to describe him after Friday's events. Others said the flag affair had torn away what was left of the thin veil over his feelings.

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If they are wrong about him – if he merely thought that the rainbow flag was a distraction – he could have said so. He could have come out of his office and said that he did not like the flag raising but he has no problem with gay people and believes they deserve equal rights. Instead, he left City Hall saying he still wanted the flag taken down.

What an awful way to begin the year in which Toronto will host the World Pride festival, bestowed on the city in part because of its reputation as an accepting place – a reputation the mayor is doing his best to undermine.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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