Speculation exploded recently after a CNN iReport blog spread the rumor that pop star Bruno Mars had come out as gay in a Chicago radio interview. The fact that this was reported on April 1st moderated the buzz a little. People wondered if the blogger was pulling an April Fool's prank. Or had the blog site been hacked as an April Fool's prank? When Bruno's agent said the reports were completely false, people wondered if Bruno had pulled the April Fool's prank himself. And could he have done this as a smart way to “test the waters” before actually coming out of the closet? Certainly he looks metrosexual, but the same is true for many fabulous but unquestionably straight pop stars.
Regardless of his sexual orientation, his hit song Just The Way You Are seems to be popular among LGBT folk and their allies. The day before the Bruno April Fool prank, Amy England dressed in Bruno drag and crooned the song to an enthusiastic crowd at an Ontario PFLAG charity gala, leaving the stage with a wad of dollar bills in hand. That would be the Oshawa regional councillor Amy England, also child and youth advocate for the Durham region. Now she has become the first Canadian politician ever to dress up in drag. (She uploaded the youtube video herself, but it was later removed for copyright reasons.)
The ensuing press uproar was focused around the accusation that her performance was “seductive,” “tacky,” “inappropriate,” and the PFLAG gala was described as a “freak convention.” Much was made of the fact that members of the crowd handed over cash using their mouth. The PFLAG people claimed the crowd was actually quite well behaved. And hey, compared to many other LGBT drag shows, they may have been. (Miss LEZ anyone?)
To put this in a little *context [see editors note below], Councilor Amy England has been controversial before. When running for election, she went on a reality TV show and got a $200,000 makeover. She failed to mention this in her election accounts, and was accused by former candidate Bill Steele as a breach of Canada's election laws. Total spending limits for candidates here is under $100,000 and one individual's donation may not be more than $750.
However, part of the platform she ran on in 2010 included support for LGBT people, a pressing issue in Oshawa at the time. In 2008, a lesbian couple, Jane Currie and Anji Dimitriou, were waiting with other parents to collect their six-year-old child from an Oshawa school, when they were attacked by another parent, Mark Scott. He punched them both in the face and shouted homophobic insults (in front of all the schoolkids), apparently angry that they had spoken to his child. Other parents had to intervene to stop the attack. He had previously verbally abused them on the pretext of arguing over a parking spot. When the court case was finally decided in 2011, Scott was not charged with a hate crime, only assault, and was given four months in jail.
In light of this, Amy England has been a vocal supporter for the LGBT community and she claims her drag show antics were just a part of that. Which begs the question, how dignified must a Canadian councillor be? Is this really less dignified than some of the verbal mudslinging that regularly goes on in politics? Would there be this kind of fuss if she dressed up as a furry mascot for a parade or some other non-LGBT costume?
Other protesters pointed out that if heterosexual councillors held a charity even at a strip club, they would be labelled perverts. Does this mean they are equating a PFLAG gala to a strip club? Or are they just equating singing a song in drag with pole dancing?
Personally, I would like to see politicians maintain a sense of dignity as representatives of our country, but I think the days when that was the norm may be long gone. And if politicians must make a spectacle of themselves, I would prefer it wasn't through ignorant bigotry or adulterous scandal. I would rather it be happy karaoke in support of a good cause.
[*Editor's note: we heard from Councilor England via facebook after this blog was published. She commented saying: "I would like to point out your blog is not factual and I would like a retraction immediately. I did not break election law, I did not get a 200,000 makeover. The person who tried to audit my finances and failed is also the person that wrote the horrible editorial on page 10 of the Oshawa Central Newspaper." And Councilor England provided this link to an article in thestar.com to clarify the issue.]