Clad in black leather jacket, sunglasses and a fedora tilted just below his hairline, Bruno croons out “Just the Way You Are” to a smiling audience member who has lined up to hand him money. He accepts it, grinning. As the song ends, Bruno grabs a wad of bills and, with a wave, walks offstage.
“Let’s hear it for Bruno Mars, aka regional councillor Amy England,” announces the emcee.
England, an Oshawa city councillor, was the special guest drag king at a March 31 charity gala hosted by the Durham Region chapter of PFLAG. The group was raising money for an LGBTA leadership camp, designed to bring together queer and allied youth. England was joined at the event by fellow councillor Bruce Woods.
England says the reaction afterward was immensely positive. “It really showed and highlighted how progressive our community actually is,” she says. “And how inclusive it can be.”
But not everyone was happy.
A long-winded headline on the front cover of the Oshawa/Durham Central newspaper proclaims, “Amy England takes dollar bills from lesbians [sic] mouth during performance at parents/family of gay/lesbian gala many are left demanding disciplinary action be taken by city Oshawa has been shamed!!!”
The full story on page five of the April 9 to 15 edition features pictures of England’s performance. The writer accuses England of “dancing around the stage in a very seductive fashion and what some call inappropriate manner.” The article goes on to say that during England’s “tacky performance,” she acted inappropriately in taking money from the attendees.
The article also contains interviews with five members of the community, including city council “watchdog” Bill Steele, who has twice tried and failed to unseat England. He wonders if England’s next performance will be in blackface.
Other interviewees call the performance “disgusting,” questioning what England was doing at “a freak convention” and wondering why “gay/lesbians need a fundraiser.” One man complains that if he and the “heterosexual taxpayers” were to hold an event at a strip club, he would be “labeled a pervert.” One woman says it “churned her stomach,” summarizing her reaction with “yuck.”
The question on “everyone’s” mind, according to the writer, is whether the councillors will be reprimanded for being at the event.
England says she was “shocked, saddened, then angered” by the article. The video shows the audience members, who were all 19 and older, acting relatively tamely during the performance. “It was totally taken out of context and twisted into a very negative connotation,” she says.
Meanwhile, publisher Joe Ingino isn’t backing down. “Constituents who see this are baffled that someone who is supposed to uphold the ethics and the morality of the community is so blatantly disrespectful towards city council,” he told Xtra. Ingino calls the article “quality journalism.”
In a local television interview, Councillor Wood had strong words about Ingino’s article: “I am appalled that a responsible journalist would take such overt actions against any group in our society.”
England agrees. “This type of hate is unacceptable in my book,” she says.
England, who was elected in 2010, represents a city that was the scene of a brutal gaybashing in 2008 in which two women were beaten in front of their six-year-old son. England says this is exactly the sort of hate that led her to take part in the charity drag show. Since the article came out, support has been squarely behind her, she says. “They are standing up against the hate that’s being perpetuated in this article.”
Activists Anji and Jane Dimitriou-Currie, a local lesbian couple, are planning to show their support for England at the April 10 city council meeting. Anji says the queer community in Oshawa is “completely enraged” and planning to take action.
“We will bring our rainbow colours to stand in solidarity and silently express our appreciation and support,” she says. “I plan to be there, not in protest, but in support and love. Love is better than hate.”
England counts herself a strong ally of the queer community, having gone so far as to train her campaign volunteers on maintaining positive and inclusive spaces during the last council election. She even mentioned her support for the community in election pamphlets.
When England uploaded the video to YouTube, she proudly wrote, “I made history on March 31st at the PFLAG gala. They say I am the first councillor to do drag in Canada.”
Far from being discouraged by the article, “it fuels the fire to continue fighting for equality,” she says. “Equality is more powerful than hate.”
And if a charity comes knocking for a repeat performance?
“Of course I will,” England says.
See the Studio 12 News report:
See Amy England’s performance: