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Mayor Ford makes surprise appearance at City Hall rainbow flag raising

Mayor Rob Ford made a surprise appearance at a City Hall rainbow flag-raising event Thursday. He stood at the podium amid applause and officially proclaimed May 17 as the day against homophobia and transphobia in Toronto.

Ford had previously indicated he wouldn’t be attending the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) event.

“Toronto is a society open to everyone, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two spirit and transsexual LGBT community who are an important part of this city’s diversity,” he said. “Toronto is an active participant in the elimination of all forms of discrimination and is committed to the equal treatment of all people and their right to live in conditions of dignity, respect and peace.”

He ended his brief speech with “all the best, Mayor Rob Ford.”

Before he spoke, Ford received a quick supportive tap on the shoulder from one of his biggest rivals at city hall, Coun. Adam Vaughan.

“We’re all better for the mayor’s attendance here today,” Vaughan told CityNews after the event. “Most importantly, I think it sends a strong message to those that have used [the mayor’s] difficulty with this issue to spew hate on websites and talk radio and they can take those attitudes and crawl back under the rocks from where they come.”

Another rival, Coun. Gord Perks, said it was his “distinct pleasure” to invite the mayor to the podium to read the proclamation.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam also acknowledged the importance of Ford’s attendance at the event.

“A very big thank you to my mayor and your mayor, Mayor Rob Ford,” she said.

Coun. Janet Davis spoke after Ford. She’s a PFLAG member and spoke about her own “coming out” last year when she revealed that her son is gay.

“It was the first time that I told the world that my son was gay. It was transformational. It did change me,” she said.

While Ford’s appearance at the event was an important step in building a stronger relationship with the city’s LGBT community after he failed to attend the Pride parade last year, there could still be some rough waters ahead.

Ford is expected to be a no-show at the Pride parade on July 1 for the second-straight year. The mayor said he won’t stray from tradition and will be spending time with his family at his Muskoka cottage. He hasn’t said whether he’ll attend any Pride events during the 10-day festival that runs June 22-July 1.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s Pride festival is once again facing the threat of losing its city funding after the controversial group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) confirmed it plans to march in this year’s parade.

Pride’s municipal funding was up in the air around the same time last year over debate about the group’s participation. In 2010, city manager Joe Pennachetti clarified QuAIA wasn’t in violation of Toronto’s anti-discrimination policies. The city’s executive committee is reportedly set to debate that policy next month.

Nearly $125,000 of city funding is at stake this year. QuAIA, which disapproves of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, decided not to march in last year’s parade so as not to put Pride’s funding in jeopardy after a threat by Ford to withhold city cash. The mayor has described QuAIA as a hate group.