NIAGARA FALLS – Angela J. Bray is a writer, model and disability advocate who serves on the Niagara Falls Human Rights Commission.
The 34-year-old has also penned tales of erotica.
She’s been professionally photographed while scantily clad in her wheelchair and she talked about one-night stands with Penthouse magazine for a story about sex with women in wheelchairs.
And now, she’s running for the Niagara Falls School Board.
Bray, who has been in a wheelchair since her early teens, does not mind talking about sexuality, whether it’s hers or giving advice to others about theirs.
She has appeared in People Magazine for a story about extreme weight loss, been on “Entertainment Tonight” and participated in a non-nude photo contest on Playboy.com.
And she’s not afraid to talk about any of it.
“My skeletons are all on Facebook, not in my closet,” she said.
Bray is one of six candidates on Tuesday’s ballot seeking a seat on the Niagara Falls School Board.
Bray and the other candidates – Steven P. DiNieri, Ken Hamilton, Arthur L. Jocoy Jr., Nicholas S.J. Vilardo and Thomas R. Vitello Sr. – participated in a debate Tuesday night in the Niagara Falls Public Library, an event whose sponsors included the Niagara Falls Block Club Council.
Norma Higgs, the council’s treasurer, said Bray spoke well, answered questions more directly than other candidates and presented herself well overall during the forum.
“She sounded like she was very interested in being on the board,” Higgs said.
Born with bone and joint deformities, the Montgomery County, Md., native was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She also has juvenile-onset glaucoma, juvenile-onset polyosteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Before moving fully to a wheelchair at age 14, she used crutches, leg braces and other instruments to help her mobility. Because of the nature of her condition, she was a self-described “guinea pig” for many of the surgeries she had.
She also dealt with weight issues, at one point weighing more than 300 pounds, but she shed almost 200 pounds and started modeling nine years ago after going on a photo shoot with a friend who suggested she try it herself.
She said she is running for the board for a number of reasons. Since moving to the Falls in 2007 with her husband, Cheyn, she said she has tried to help local families of students with disabilities deal with issues in city schools. She is unable to have children of her own, which also played a part in her decision to run.
Bray, who is fluent in French and Spanish and also speaks Russian, said she knew her openness about sex, photographs and writings might become an issue in the race, noting all the information is available on her website, available to anyone on the Internet.
“I have the option of taking down my website or changing it or doing something, but then I would be saying to the world ‘I’m not proud of myself. I’m being disingenuous,’” Bray said. “...[W]e’re so used to politicians being disingenuous and obfuscating their lives and trying to put forth this squeaky clean exterior. And then you find out that he’s getting gay hookers in the bathroom snorting coke off their back.”
Bray said she, like many others in her generation, grew up online. It’s a place where she has few qualms about baring her soul.
“This is now the norm,” she said. “The fact that this would be viewed as scandalous – you ought to see most kids’ Instagrams or their Snapchats,” referring to two social media outlets.
Bray, who serves on the board of Independent Living of Niagara County, an agency serving those with disabilities, wrote erotica at one point in her life, she said, right after her husband lost his job in the financial sector after the Sept. 11 attacks. She said she did it to make ends meet for her family. Some of it even ended up in Hustler magazine.
Bray entered herself into an online photo contest on Playboy’s website, in which contestants – who had to be clothed – aimed to get votes via social media. She said she reached eighth place.
Bray’s website, www.ajbray.com, opens with a closeup picture of two strawberries and the words “100% juicy,” which she said refers to her fashion writing. She admits she wants to change that particular image, having not updated her site in two years. She has written both fiction and nonfiction in short stories, as well as her blog, www.heelsnwheels.info.
She provides “sexuality coach” services, talking on the phone with people about their own sexuality issues, much of which is with people who are gay and have yet to come out. She said people hear about her service online.
She also said she doesn’t care what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, and urges other disabled people not to be hesitant to show people who they really are.
“We can be sexual creatures,” she said.
Bray said she wants to make the school district more transparent, officials more accessible and the schools better for all children, not just disabled ones.
Though she has been focused on disability issues, ultimately the goal of her efforts, she said, is not to get “some crazy narcissistic head trip off of this.”
“Almost everything I do is to bring awareness to difference,” she said.