Bronx Councilmember Fernando Cabrera is challenging Bronx and Queens Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary next year — and he’s already trying to minimize his disastrous record on LGBTQ rights.
Cabrera, whose City Council district encompasses Morris Heights, University Heights, Fordham, and Kingsbridge, initially told the New York Daily News that he is running for Congress because the district, in his view, needs a representative “that’s going to be present, that’s going to attend quality-of-life issues… who’s not going to run more jobs out of New York City.”
But when asked by the Daily News about his well-documented history of homophobia, he shot back, saying, “I always find it ironic because I have supported every bill, every single bill that has come to the Council that was important to the LGBT caucus.”
Contrary to his assertion, Cabrera has voted on multiple occasions against LGBTQ rights legislation led by members of that caucus. He voted against out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s 2014 bill to allow folks to change the gender designation on their birth certificate and he opposed a related bill led by Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens requiring an advisory board to implement the gender marker change requirement. He was also absent from voting on legislation requiring the Department of Education to report on gay-straight alliances.
Dromm, who is the chair of the LGBT caucus, did not respond to a request for comment about Cabrera’s claims to have supported every bill important to the caucus. Cabrera did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Despite Cabrera’s rhetoric, his resistance to LGBTQ rights remains evident today. He is the founder and pastor at New Life Outreach International, a nondenominational church in the Bronx, which still boasts a “Statement of Faith” stating that marriage is “the exclusive covenantal union of one man and one woman.” And in February, he abstained from a vote to strip Bronx Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., of his Committee on For-Hire Vehicles in response to his homophobic comments.
Most notably, Cabrera was widely criticized in 2014 when he traveled to Uganda after that nation passed a bill penalizing same-sex relations with life imprisonment. He posted a video on YouTube during that trip, calling the government “godly” while commending their leaders for sticking to their values in the face of what he described as warnings by the United States to cut aid unless they supported same-sex marriage. The original clip was deleted, but it was copied and reposted on YouTube.
“Even when the United States of America has put pressure, has told Uganda, ‘We are not going to fund you anymore unless you allow gay marriage,’ they have stood in their place,” Cabrera said in that video. “Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation.”
Cabrera has also filmed videos for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has led the charge on a wide range of legal battles challenging queer rights. ADF filed a lawsuit targeting the constitutionality of New York City’s ban on conversion therapy, leading the City Council to repeal it in September.
The third term councilmember lost two State Senate Races — in 2014 and 2016 — when he ran in the Democratic primary for the seat currently occupied by Gustavo Rivera. Now, as he sets his sights on Capitol Hill, local political figures aren’t fooled by his apparent attempts to erase his record.
“A turkey can’t declare itself a peacock and expect anyone to believe it,” said Rod Townsend, who is the president of Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, a citywide LGBTQ political club.
Towensend also took aim at Cabrera’s claims that the Congressional district needs a representative “that’s going to be present” by defending Ocasio-Cortez’s visbility in the community and conveying stark differences between the two candidates.
“We endorsed AOC in the general election in 2018 and have seen her at Pride and other LGBTQ events throughout her district,” Townsend said. “She’s been outspoken in her support from broad legislation like the Equality Act to more specific issues facing the trans community and LGBTQ immigrants.”
He continued, “On the other hand, we’ve denounced and condemned Cabrera for his homophobic views and actions over the years.”
Cabrera is not the only anti-LGBTQ councilmember seeking to get elected to Congress. Diaz, a Pentecostal reverend who has unapologetically pushed back against queer rights for decades, is running to replace outgoing Congressmember Jose Serrano in the 14th Congressional district in a race that features out gay Councilmember Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake, among others.