On when you know a minority group has made it

The city of Toronto just held its mayoral election. The results are in; populist mayor Rob Ford, representative of the suburbs and famous for his tax-cutting ways, has been elected with 47.3% of the votes cast in 96.5% of the polls.

I am not happy about this. Rob Ford’s vision for Toronto is one that I dislike: we need more investment in public transit, of course not hiring replacements for retired workers is going to hurt public service, we need investment in arts and culture, shrinking the number of city councillors is a great way to undermine democracy, and so on. Edward Keenan’s eye weekly essay is right in predicting–I hope–that Ford’s initiatives will be stymied by his poor relationships with everyone on council. It’s a shame that’s the best-case scenario.

The one thing that does please me about the campaign is the way that Ford’s nearest competitor, George Smitherman (some 35% of the vote) was treated. Smitherman is the most prominent gay politician in Ontario, serving in the provincial parliament for a decade, becoming Premier Dalton McGuinty’s right-hand man, and now mounting a relatively credible if ultimately uninspired mayoral campaign. Smitherman is certainly out; his 2007 marriage was widely publicized, as was the couple’s adoption of a child.

Did homophobia make an appearance in the campaign? One might have expected it would, given the downtown/suburbs culture clash that drove the campaign, and Rob Ford’s problematic history re: queers. Yet, apart from a few isolated incidents, nothing. As far as I can tell, the campaign wasn’t fought with Smitherman’s sexual orientation being an issue, it was fought instead on the basis of the issues. What did Toronto’s electorate want? Who did they think would right Toronto? Smitherman’s past record as “Furious George”, combative and hostile to compromise didn’t help, likewise Smitherman’s involvement in the eHealth scandal (briefly, a billion dollars got wasted in a computerization of health records). But his sexual orientation? It was barely mentioned, even in passing.

I’m very happy with this. Toronto–and other cities, and other continents, more every day–has reached a point where sexual orientation just isn’t an especially relevant issue. You know that a once-subjugated demographic has mostly made it when its individual members fail, but their failure is not the product of bigotry directed at them for their defining characteristic, but rather it’s because their audience just didn’t buy their arguments. Speaking as a member of one of these groups, I find this fabulous.

Can any of my readers think of similar examples, of members of minority groups who have shown, in failure, that they’re just one of the crowd?

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