Opera Lyra has terminated American opera singer Valerian Ruminski, who was set to star in the upcoming production of Tosca, following a series of public posts on his Facebook profile.
In the posts, which have since been deleted, Ruminski shared a photo of Samnang Tep, better known in the LGBT community as drag performer Jade London. Ruminski spotted London on public transit the evening of Thursday, Aug 21, and took offence at her manicure.
“Look at the stupid nails this moron had on while taking a bus in Ottawa,” Ruminski wrote. “I guess he needs diamond studded nails to make up for his face.” He adds that by wearing the manicure in public, London was seeking attention and should expect to attract criticism.
“Like the black males who wear pants down off their asses. They want you to notice it and get angered by it. Thats [sic] part of the strategy. He has an agenda by gluing diamonds onto his nails . . . and so do I by commenting on how stupid it is!”
London, who was recently crowned Miss Capital Pride, says she was on the bus with a co-worker and wasn’t aware of Ruminski or that he was taking a photograph of her. The posts came to her attention when a friend phoned her and alerted her to the situation, she says.
According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is legal in Canada to take and share photographs of individuals in public places such as the bus, so long as they are not being used for commercial purposes. As a public figure, London says she’s used to that reality when she’s performing — but she still prefers to be asked. “When I’m in the limelight, I’m in the light. I get it. But when you’re sitting on a bus, you really do not expect it whatsoever,” she says.
Speaking on his behalf, Ruminski’s publicist says that he was unaware of who London was at the time he took and shared the photo. Ruminski declined to speak with Xtra but did provide a statement via his publicist in which he says he regrets the posts, calling them “hurtful” and “thoughtless.”
In reaction to the posts, Opera Lyra’s general director, Jeep Jeffries, said he felt the best course of action was to terminate Ruminski’s contract with the opera. “Persons employed by Opera Lyra, including short-term cast members, are expected to contribute to good community relations. Respectful behaviour toward others is an essential part of this,” he said in a statement posted to Opera Lyra’s website and Facebook page.
“I learned about Mr Ruminski’s comments on Sunday morning and launched into the better part of the day consulting with the chair of our board and various members of our staff on how to proceed,” Jeffries says. “By late in the day it was pretty clear that we would need to make a change, and so we’ve relieved Mr Ruminski of his duties relating to the production.”
Ruminski was to have sung the part of the Sacristan in Tosca, which Jeffries describes as “a small but important role in the show.” Canadian bass Peter Strummer has been hired to take over the role.
“None of us at Opera Lyra were aware immediately of the identity of the person in Mr Ruminski’s photo,” Jeffries says. “With all due respect to [Ms] London, I have to say it doesn’t really matter. The fact that Mr Ruminski chose a stranger, an individual, and was disrespectful was what really got us going on this.”
London says that since the incident, she has not spoken with Ruminski. She says he did reach out to her via a mutual friend in the opera community, bisexual tenor Dustin Hiles, to offer an apology, but she doesn’t feel he is being sincere. “It’s not the right time to do it, and also I’m very skeptical on what his intentions are or what he’s really thinking . . . I think he’s only acting this way because he got caught.”
In an article about the incident published by the Ottawa Citizen, Ruminski identifies himself as a liberal and denies that the comments were homophobic in nature. In an apology posted to his personal website, he says members of the gay community have been formative influences on his career as an opera singer.
Ruminski has also released a statement directly addressing the LGBT community in which he says he will act more thoughtfully in future. Hiles said on Facebook that he does not believe Ruminski’s comments were deliberately homophobic, but rather “Just stupid mean spirited social commentary” and stated he was willing to forgive the singer.
As for London, she is satisfied with the actions taken by Opera Lyra in the wake of the controversy. She hopes the incident will remind others in the community to rally around those who experience bullying.