‘Anti-gay’ comments singer says: I’m a liberal. I like to bitch.

‘Anti-gay’ comments singer says: I’m a liberal. I like to bitch.


norman lebrecht

August 26, 2014

Valerian Ruminski, the opera singer fired in Ottawa for supposedly anti-gay comments, has offered a fulsome explanation to Slipped Disc readers about his attitudes on life and the way he shares them on social media. He treats the issues raised by his conduct with frankness and self-awareness. He acknowledges his mistake and insists he has no prejudices about minorities. He seeks forgiveness.

valerian ruminski


I suppose the best way to explain myself is the way that I made my big mistake. I will write it out. I have been writing caustic blurbs about politics and religion and many other topics on my Facebook page since Facebook came out back in 2008. I have a tendency to want to shock and stimulate conversation. For me it’s a way to express myself in a chaotic world where there are so many things wrong. Over-population, war, disease, climate change, gender inequality, cruelty to wildlife and so on and so on…

I feel as powerless as anyone else when things happen in the world. We all have different ways of dealing with them. It seems like, for me, I like to write things and start debates. I get agitated at things and I want to vent and let people know I am bothered. I never know what it’s going to be.

I lead the life of an opera singer. For those of you who don’t know what that means I will take a moment to describe it to you. We train for years, spend loads of money on teachers and coachings and then start to get jobs in various cities with various countries for a month at a time thruought the year. It’s not as glamorous as you might think. I generally get 3 or 4, maybe 5 if I am lucky, gigs a year and learn new roles. Mainly it’s a lonely existence. You make a few freinds along the way and have some places that are regular employers. Most of the time the sacrifices that you have made to get to this point are greater than the rewards you will reap. Sometimes you can make a great leap and have some success. I wasn’t sure I was going to have an opera career. I knew I could sing.
It wasn’t until I joined the opera chorus in my local town that I realized that a career was possible. The general director, Gary, liked my voice and he invited me to sing for him in his studio. So I took my best piece of music and I did. I really didn’t think one way or the other about the fact that he was gay. He was an intelligent, caring and compassionate man who wanted to see my talent blossom. He taught me all the basics I needed to start mounting the career I have now.


valerian ruminski2
Gary also maneuvered my schooling. towards an elite school where I was inducted into a sort of ‘opera boot camp’. I was accepted into a 4 year full scholarship program. My first assigned teacher, Bill, was a great tenor….respected in the opera world and also quite gay. I went to my lessons and became great frieinds with Bill. He remained my teacher for 8 solid years and taught me the basic rudiments and foundations of my technique.

At the same time, at the academy, our music director, Chris molded and shaped me into an opera singer that could phrase a line, sing a language correctly and act well on stage. He was gay and had lived with the same man for over 25 years. I got to know Chris and John very well and I felt for Chris’ pain as John went thru cancer treatments and operations. They are still together.d are very special to me.
All the other coaches, except one, at the academy were gay and they each taught me very unique things about my craft. I felt part of a very special family learning there and I missed it when I left.

As I was leaving school and moving out into the world I was auditioning for many companies and I was accepted into a downstate summer program in NY. Jay was the director. Also very gay. He was an old Broadway dancer and had a way with comedy. He worked me to the bone all summer and I danced for the first (and last) time with frequency. He was a mentor, a director, a teacher and my employer. I left the summer program with a full stock of tricks to use throughout my career.

The summer after that I went out west to New Mexico and was in a very elite summer program. I was one of 10 young men to be accepted. I would say at least 5 of the other guys were gay,. Some of them didnt admit it because they were unsure as to the ramifications of what that might mean for their careers. I got along with them all and I still correspond with them to this day.

To play out the string on my recollections….my first two agents were both gay, My first major accompanist, Bill H, was gay. Almost half of the men who hired me into my first positions singing in Monte Carlo, Montreal, Dallas and Atlanta were gay. My current NYC agent is gay and married.

So, as for my big mistake. I like to write. I like to bitch. I like to complain about the world, about people, countries, organizations. It makes me feel better. I sat on a bus last week and I saw a man with 10 diamonds glued to his fingernails. I thought it was a bit over the top. I did not know who he was, To me it did not matter if he was gay or straight. I simply objected to the flambouyance and unneccessary accoutrements on his fingers. I wanted to get a picture of them so I angled my cell and got one. I posted the picture on Facebook. I vented some frustrations about his nails and his appearance and I left it there.

That was my big mistake. I did not know him. I did not know if he was smart or witty or dull. I didn’t take the time to say hello or greet him. I didn’t take the time to pause and think and consider that we are all special and that this person was different in a way that was unique to everyone else around us. I am an opera singer. He, as I learned, is a drag queen. The two of us are not too far apart, I guess. I am sorry I didn’t say hello before flash judging him. Certainly I regret the backlash and hulabaloo after my posting. I never bashed him for his sexuality. I never would have. I have been shaped by gay men. They have been father figures, brothers in arms and mentors to me. I lost my father at 10 yrs old to a heart attack. I found his lifeless body on the couch and I pounded on his arm to get up when he wouldn’t open his eyes. Ever since then I have sought out fathers in my life., To me, the gay men that have been in my life are not just gay men…they have been family. They have been cherished, loved and lost. Never in a physical way, but in my heart.

I would ask the gay community to reconsider flash judgements. Facebook is not a place where the totality of a person can be glimpsed in moments. We are all text books of experience and depth and sometimes you have to look underneath the surface to see that. You yourselves have fought for so long to rise above the prejudice that has plagued you for centuries. You have wanted to be judged for who you really are not just that you love someone of the same gender. I am asking you to judge me for who I am telling you that I am.

I am Valerian Ruminski, opera singer, hetero male,orphaned son, liberal, progressive, tolerant and accepting of all. But I made a big mistake last week. Please forgive me.



  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Public confessions, retractions… Memories of tolerance?

  • Reinhold Martin says:

    Opera Lyra should be requested to reconsider the decision to fire this singer. Does not look to be justified.

  • sdReader says:

    Fine, but why complain about the other guy? He was minding his own business, and the comment about his face was mean.

  • Garden-variety bullying and discrimination of this nature contributes to a climate where people think it’s okay to make fun of someone’s otherness or engage in racial profiling. Like the song says, “We’re all a little bit racist,” and if we want to create a civilization that will one day be all-inclusive we have to actively guard against the expression of these thoughts when we do have them. It may seem to do no real or lasting harm to deride a drag queen’s appearance on your Facebook page, but it affirms the hateful views of any bigoted person who comes across it who may themselves be inclined to more violent or overtly discriminatory behavior towards members of the LGBT community.

    The problem is not the flash judgment. We all have those moments, and they are entirely forgivable. What matters is how we act on them. So what I want to know is, the next time you find yourself making a flash judgment, will you have the good judgment to refrain from expressing yourself this way?

    • cabbagejuice says:

      Wow, self-censorship of anti-inclusive views! Apparently, the remedy for that is sensitivity training bootcamp to flatten out those nasty moments of “flash moral judgement”.

  • May says:

    It just goes to prove the old adage, there is no such thing as bad publicity!

  • Ethel Whitehead says:

    There’s a lesson to be learned here, but Mr. Ruminski seems dead-set against learning it.

  • Ethel Whitehead says:

    “I vented some frustrations about his nails,” said no heterosexual male ever.

  • Niles says:

    As if countless gay men haven’t made the same sort of bitchy comments about others. Get over yourselves, hypocrites.

  • harold braun says:

    I think it´s a storm in a teapot and the reaction is totally inappropiate and exaggerated.I mean if you think about artists some decades ago who have made much worse remarks having been banned from performing we would perhaps be bereaved of some very great music making( I only may mention Sir Thomas Beecham).

  • Nick says:

    There has already been a lengthy thread about this incident. Nowhere, as far as I can see, is there a detailed explanation of what exactly happened. From what I have read, it seems to have been this.

    As Mr. Ruminski points out, he took a photo with his cellphone of a man who had diamonds in his fingernails. In posting the photos on Facebook, he also made some comments venting, as he states above, “some frustrations about his nails and his appearance.”

    The man in question, a Mr. Jade London, took offence. The annual Queen of Pride Festival had recently taken place and Mr. London had been crowned ‘Ms Capital Pride’. According to Mr. London, the comments attached to the photo included the following, “[he] wrote nasty comments about how I’m a moron and how my nails all bejazzled up compensated for my face.”


    If that quote is true, it puts a very different light on Mr. Ruminski’s spin. It is one thing to post a photo of a man with bejewelled finger nails. It is, in my view, quite another publicly to call anyone a “moron” and to make negative allusions to his “face”.

    Mr. Ruminski is a regular poster on Facebook. Unfortunately for him, Facebook has more than 1.2 billion users. He admits likes to write “caustic blurbs . . . to shock and stimulate conversation.” Later he adds, “Facebook is not a place where the totality of a person can be glimpsed in moments. We are all text books of experience and depth and sometimes you have to look underneath the surface to see that.”

    Sorry, Mr. Ruminski. You took a photo without permission and created a false persona for that person in a few words. Did you bother even to try and look under the surface and consider the totality of that person? No. You made an instant judgement. Your words catch you out. Now you know the consequences.

  • Erich says:

    Frankly the main problems here are the multiple cancers called Facebook, Twitter, Blog, I-Phone and YouTube.
    Since their invention, private thoughts and utterances have exited the private sphere and become common currency. Everyone thinks they have a right to inflict their ’emissions’ on the rest of the world. Most of them are simply not worth digital transmission. It’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle unfortunately but we all have ourselves to blame for letting it out in the first place.

    • Nick says:

      Bravo! And I thought I was the only one without a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog – or even a smartphone!

      • Ethel Whitehead says:

        Johannes Gutenberg has a lot to answer for. And whoever that guy was who invented fire… what was he thinking?

  • CDH says:

    Well, it’s all very awful, and I agree with Erich re social media and its consequences. (Ruminski, a self-proclaimed early adopter, ought to have been more aware of the possibilities of any ill-judged comments).

    But the shocker to me is that an opera singer and Miss Capital Pride were on a bus!

  • Burton says:

    We all – ok most of us – recognize that disparaging postings can be hurtful and that those invoking the long and shameful history of cruelty and discrimination aimed at the LGBT community can trigger powerful reactions.To trample across such sensitive territory in a fit of irritation or momentary pique is, well, not smart if one has no wish to give grave offense to a wide audience. It is especially not smart if one seeks to thrive in a profession that includes many who are bound to take offense. Doesn’t make one evil; it does evidence badly flawed judgment. And we’re all guilty of that on occasion (though usually not in a public forum).Time to move on. Lesson learned. No lives were lost…

    • Colin Eatock says:

      No lives were lost. But employment was lost, and the opera world became a chillier place. See my further comments here … http://www.colineatock.com/eatock-daily-blog

    • Nick says:

      I really don’t see that it has anything to do with the sexuality of the man whose photograph was taken. Publicly calling someone whose photograph you take without his permission, whom you have never met and about whom you know absolutely nothing other than that he has diamonds in his nails “a moron” is not merely arrogant, it deliberately and wilfully degrades and humiliates. If he had just posted the photo with a caption like “Seen today at the bus stop”, this would be a dead issue. No-one can go around calling someone they have never met “a moron”. I hope Mr. Ruminski has now learned that lesson.

  • steve says:

    I’d be the first to clamp down on homophobia but his comments were about exhibitionism. I can’t say it was worth bitching about but let’s be careful about knee jerk reactions. Likewise,criticism of Israel doesn’t spell anti semitism.

  • Burton says:

    One certainly has the right to post demeaning commentary on Facebook replete with anti-LGBT overtones. Performing arts organizations also may require affiliated persons to abstain from conduct harmful to the reputation and community standing of the organization itself. This is reasonable and by no means tantamount to slavery. Expecting affiliated persons to abide by the barest minimum in public decency is not the ‘oppression of niceness’ – it’s common sense. Here the consequence seems harsh but Opera Lyra has to make the call. Not an easy one either. But no, the sky is not falling.

  • Sally says:

    Just like the new new forum for classical singers, eh?