On Sunday May 6th, Mayor Rob Ford and his councillor brother Doug invited Sun Media’s David Menzies to their weekly radio show on Newstalk AM 1010 and provided a platform for his trash-talking ignorance. During his bizarre on-air stint, Mr. Menzies praised the brothers, fed their anti-Toronto Star paranoia and railed against their “enemies”, singling out three Ford opponents for especially vicious attacks.
To summarize, Mr. Menzies called comedienne Mary Walsh an alcoholic. He then attacked reporter Daniel Dale for being effeminate and theorized that the Toronto Star assigned sent him to spy on the Mayor in the hopes of provoking a violent ouburst against which he could not defend himself. He concluded with a homophobic rant about political correctness making it acceptable to question Ford about his weight and health during the campaign but unacceptable to ask George Smitherman—”a practicing homosexual and admitted drug-user”—whether he could be trusted not to engage in dangerous activities leading to death from HIV/AIDS if he were elected.
The Fords kept mostly quiet during Menzies’ tirade. Mayor Ford quipped that he “didn’t know what she was on that morning,” regarding Mary Walsh’s November visit to his home as her on-screen alter-ego Marg Delahunty. He concluded the segment by expressing his approval of Mr. Menzies’ performance. “That was phenomenal,” said the Mayor as Menzies took his leave.
Given the provenance and the pedigrees of the Fords and Sun News, the fratboy rhetoric should have come as no surprise. Crass divisiveness is the magic formula that won Ford the mayoralty. It is also the bait that the Sun uses to lure a steady stream advertisers that includes car dealers, insurance companies targeting the elderly, and Doctor Ho.
The intent of the broadcast was to offend and polarize. And justifiably, Pride Toronto could have issued a statement condemning Menzies and the Fords. Except it didn’t.
Pride Toronto’s carefully-worded reaction to Menzies’ remarks is entitled Pride Toronto rejects comments by guest on Rob and Doug Ford radio show. Well, lah-dih-dah! By its very nature, Pride Toronto exists to reject homophobia. Saying that it does so in this particular instance is about as effective and necessary as issuing a press release announcing one’s intention to breathe.
Not only does Pride fail to condemn Menzies for his remarks. The organization doesn’t even name him. Furthermore, the release does not state unequivocally that the Fords remained silent during the offensive remarks but instead uses the following circuitous statement:
After good-faith efforts to acquaint the Fords with our communities, Pride Toronto is disappointed that these homophobic comments were aired unchallenged
Any writing coach will tell you that the use of the passive voice automatically leeches the strength from a statement. But where in the above does Pride explicitly challenge the Fords over their silence? That the comments “were aired unchallenged” leaves the responsibility to anyone, including the producers, technicians, advertisers, and the guests calling in. Nowhere does Pride explicitly put the responsibility where it belongs: squarely upon the shoulders of the Ford Brothers. In failing to do so, Pride may have joined the ranks of the many enablers who insist that the Mayor and his brother are being unjustifiably targeted by their detractors. Surely this wasn’t Pride Toronto’s intention.
The wording of the letter may have been a misguided attempt to take the high road. It is perfectly acceptable and entirely possible to condemn Mr. Menzies and the Fords for their homophobia without being disrespectful. However, the tone of the press release is not that of a respectful but defiant community organization. Rather, it is the voice of a milquetoast that is trying desperately not to say anything that could be used against it by its enemies. It reads like marketing copy vetted by the legal department of a multinational corporation.
In sum, it is anything but the voice of pride.
And just to be clear, Pride should not be calling for the muzzling of Menzies. Defending free speech is one of the cornerstones of a vital democracy, but its corollary responsibility is calling out the Fords and the Menzies of the world on their bullshit.
I will conclude with a piece of advice for Toronto Pride: Given its penchant for avoiding offense, and a fondness for employing inscrutable, overly-long, unpronounceable yet inclusive acronyms, the organization should consider changing its nameto the more appropriate Kind-Of-Digging-Who-We-Are-But-Not-Too-Vocal-About-It-Lest-We-Offend-Anyone Toronto, abbreviated as KODWWABNTVAILWOA TO.
LGBTTIQQ2TA KODWWABNTVAILWOA TO ’12 has a rather nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say?
Happy Cod-wab-ant-vail-whoa, everybody.