SHERBROOKE – The owner of a Sherbrooke café that was the target of a controversial Facebook comment last month says that, despite some prank calls, she’s been “astounded” by the outpouring of public support she’s received.
“It’s been absolutely incredible,” says Tammie Vautour, who operates Beanie’s Bistro. “I’d just had two really terrible days, and I was thinking, ‘Yeah, this isn’t going well. But, all of sudden, [support] kind of blossomed... There’s still been some negative things coming my way [but overall] Sherbrooke has impressed me. We’re a pretty progressive little town.”
Vautour was in the crosshairs on July 25 when St. Mary’s municipal councillor Everett Baker commented on the Facebook group, Sherbrooke NS & Buzz, that he’d no longer frequent Beanie’s following a ‘dinner and drag’ show she’d hosted there the day before.
Under a celebratory post from the event’s organizer — local realtor and gay activist Jake Chisholm — announcing an encore performance by Tyler Thompson as Miranda Wrights, Baker posted: “Sorry, won’t be entering your establishment anymore.”
The comment prompted Chisholm to address a lengthy letter to the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, demanding Baker’s immediate resignation. “I know a homophobic comment when I see one,” he wrote. “[Baker] needs to voluntarily resign as a consequence of his actions and reflect on this incident.”
Following an hour-long emergency council meeting on July 27 — which involved all seven district representatives, senior administrative staff and the municipality’s solicitor Peter Rogers — Baker agreed to sign a letter of apology, which stated: “There was absolutely no offence intended by [my] statement. It was strictly a statement that I would have made to any establishment I did not intend to enter again.”
Despite the mea culpa, Vautour reported an immediate drop in business at Beanie’s. “I’ve lost money over the past two days,” she told The Journal on July 28. “There are regulars who should be in my seats but who aren’t [because] they’re avoiding the controversy.”
Since then, though, she said business has picked up — and in some surprising ways. “I was getting a little scared,” she told The Journal in an interview last week. “But, then, I began to see a lot of traffic of people coming in to show their support. There were the parents with their trans daughter, who weren’t from the area. They’d read about it and wanted to come in.”
As for local business, she said, “We’ve had a couple of angry calls and, you know, kind of the prank stuff with people calling but not coming in to pick up their takeout orders.” Still, she added, “Things are definitely looking good.”
Meanwhile, Vautour and Chisholm remain unhappy with council’s decision and Baker’s apology — particularly with the explanation Rogers provided for both during the six-minute-long public portion of the otherwise closed emergency meeting.
“Baker, like any other councillor who’s charged with a code of conduct violation, has been elected to represent [his] district, and it would be disenfranchising to the voters of that district to do something like suspend him,” Rogers said at the time. “Council doesn’t have those powers. As I understand it, the provincial government is working on legislation to figure out how to come up with sanctions that work and, indeed, to help all municipalities with the process. And, at the moment, we’re having to do [this] with no legislative guidance.”
Said Chisholm in an interview with The Journal last week: “That’s a crock. This apology means absolutely nothing. It is harmful to the community and just shows that everything is not well... Clearly, we have really outdated policies and procedures, when it comes to an elected official, when they violate the code of conduct. I mean, he just gets to stay... It’s the lack of respect that makes me angry now.”
Chisholm said he is writing another letter to council pressing for Baker’s resignation, and demanding that it implement “mandatory sensitivity training” for all staff and elected members, and officially declare June as pride month in the municipality, “including flying the pride flag.” He has also asked for sit-down meetings with provincial MLA Greg Morrow (Guysborough-Tracadie) and Central Nova MP Sean Fraser to discuss the situation.
Also in the works is a large-scale show for later this year or next, celebrating pride, diversity, inclusion and tolerance. “Sherbrooke Village was thinking that they’d be able to donate the space,” Chisholm said. “So, you know, the conversation is still continuing. We’re not giving up.”
For her part, Vautour will host a second Miranda Wrights night on Sunday, Aug. 13.
“When people wake up that day, they are going to realize that none of this [controversy] has changed our plans,” she said. “We’re going ahead. I think, if anything, we are showing that there is a need for this in the community. The message that I’ve been getting is that this is the time, and it’s long overdue.”