Joe Ingino is doubling down.
Faced with the resignation of one of his columnists, several of his advertisers jumping ship and allegations of homophobia, the publisher of the Oshawa Central Newspaper has once again set his sights on Oshawa Councillor Amy England. However, she’s not the only one.
This time, Ingino isn’t using his bully pulpit to attack his opponents; he’s using his lawyer.
On April 9, Xtra reported that the Oshawa Central Newspaper had printed an inflammatory story that referred to a PFLAG fundraiser as a “freakshow,” equating England’s drag performance in it to blackface.
The fallout led to the creation of Boycott Hate in Durham Region, a website set up by members of PFLAG Durham calling on all of the Central’s advertisers to end their relationships with the paper.
This week Central columnist Bill Steele publicly resigned. Writing in the paper, Steele, who has a personal history with England, accused her of “trying to sell herself like a cheap crack hooker.” He has since publicly and privately apologized to England and has sent an earnest letter to Xtra detailing his support for gay rights. Both England and PFLAG Durham accepted his apology.
Meanwhile, four advertisers have fled the paper because of its coverage of England’s fundraiser performance. Maureen Clark, treasurer and past president of PFLAG Durham, says reaction to the campaign has been positive. “Some were quite shocked,” she says. For those who can’t or won’t leave the paper, the group is encouraging them to put rainbow flags in their advertisements.”
PFLAG Durham also held an event at city hall in support of England, where Clark says there was “lots of love.” According to a local news report, the event spread like wildfire over social media and pulled out around 50 people to show their support.
Clark defends not only England’s participation in the event, but her commitment to PFLAG Durham. England comes to just about every meeting, she says, and did so long before she was a councillor.
Ingino, for his part, says those who think the article is homophobic “are being used. These are fools.” He says the gay angle was only used to create a hook and sell papers.
Ingino admits that the most salacious part of the article – quotations from “taxpayers” who call the queer community “disgusting” and “a disgrace” – was a selection of letters sent to the Oshawa Central and that no effort was made to contact any other sources.
During his interview with Xtra, Ingino said he donated $500 to the Durham Pride parade. However, Antoine Elhashem, Durham Pride’s vice-president, says this is a lie. “Not on our watch,” he says.
Clark says Ingino has in the past used his paper to make derogatory comments about the Pride parade.
Clark, who was responsible for organizing the gala at the centre of the controversy, says she was hurt when she first saw the article: “I cried.” Clark’s son is gay, and she says he faced emotional and physical bullying throughout high school. “I was worried about our kids reading this . . . it calls them a freakshow,” she says.
Ingino, meanwhile, took to Facebook to confront those who led the campaign against his article. In a 72-hour back-and-forth, Ingino launched a caps-lock-charged rant, calling the gay community a “circus act” and “creepy,” lamenting that “we are being forced to accept that a gay youth gala is acceptable.” He called England’s behaviour unbecoming, as her duty is to represent “hard-working straight people.”
Several of those who took to the Facebook thread to voice their concerns reported feeling threatened by Ingino, who repeatedly said he would sue anyone who joins the boycott campaign. Ingino has refused to comment on the Facebook thread, saying it is before his lawyers.
Ingino has also threatened Xtra, Andrea Houston and this journalist with a defamation lawsuit, accusing the lot of being “taken in by the glitter.”
Ingino took particular exception to the assertion that the assault on Aniji Dimitriou was a gaybashing.
Clark says this sort of controversy is new for PFLAG Durham. However, she points to the now-infamous fundraiser – to which 220 tickets were sold – and to its queer-positive leadership camp, which has tripled its enrollment since last year, as evidence that this sort of thing is not normal in Oshawa.
In what is perhaps a fitting irony, the controversy coincided with the Day of Pink, an international day against bullying and homophobia. Both Amy England and fellow Councillor Bruce Wood recorded videos and dedicated them to loved ones – England, to her gay best friend, and Wood, to his niece and her partner.
Xtra has as yet not heard from Ingino’s lawyers.
Members of the queer community in Oshawa are organizing a silent rally against homophobia outside of city hall on April 18. See the Facebook group here.