Local elected officials and advocates braved the snowy conditions outside City Hall on Tuesday morning to demand the resignation of Bronx Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., who remains defiant in his refusal to step down or even apologize for his recent homophobic remarks.
“We must all call for his resignation, and he must go,” said out gay Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, who said Diaz’s comments about LGBTQ folks controlling the City Council represented “an attempt to put us in our place.”
“I believe firmly that Councilmember Diaz’s comments embolden those who already hate us,” he added. “So we are not just speaking out against those comments, we are speaking for those LGBTQ youth in the Bronx or otherwise who might be struggling with their sexual orientation or identity. His comments cannot be internalized by them.”
Diaz has claimed in recent days — including in an interview with Gay City News — that he is the “victim” in the ongoing saga stemming from his insensitive comments. Van Bramer fired back, saying Diaz is doubling down on his hatred.
“He says we are bullying him,” Van Bramer said. “I call bullshit.”
Two other LGBTQ members of the City Council, Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn and Daniel Dromm of Queens, also spoke against Diaz at the event. Menchaca, the first openly gay councilmember from his borough and the first Mexican-American to serve on the City Council, offered a personal story of his own experience growing up in a religious atmosphere in El Paso, Texas.
“I grew up around people like him, the way that he speaks about his religion,” Menchaca said. “This is why he belongs in a church somewhere else spewing his hate, not in the City Council.”
“We say ‘basta’ to your homophobic heart,” Menchaca said, employing the Spanish word for “enough.”
Also present were Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams and former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who are both running for public advocate, as well as Councilmembers Rory Lancman of Queens and Mark Levine of Manhattan. Former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who is a lesbian, blasted Diaz for using “dog whistles” to attack the community.
Dromm brought with him a letter he wrote in 1994 to the Civil Complaint Review Board in which he demanded Diaz’ removal from the police oversight agency because he said gay men and lesbians were “cursed,” made derogatory statements about the threat that year’s Gay Games in New York posed for increased HIV transmissions, and said gays and lesbians fall into the same category as “thieves, slanderers, murderers, idolaters, drug addicts, misers, swindlers, and criminals.”
In that letter, Dromm also noted that Diaz mocked then-City Councilmember Tom Duane, who, along with the late Antonio Pagán, served as the first openly gay members of the Council. According to the letter, Diaz said, “Does he (Duane) think I would tremble with fear, and run and kneel before this insignificant uncircumcised [sic, presumably] Philistine?”
Years later, Dromm said he was harassed with homophobic emails from Diaz during the fight for marriage equality in New York.
“I got these emails on almost a daily basis about ‘what you should know’ and they were horrific,” he said. “Just as bad as in this letter. I had to ask him, numerous times, to remove me from those email lists. I had to go to the New York State secretary of state to get him to stop harassing me.”
Williams stressed the egregious nature of Diaz’s comments, saying that he has never before called for a public official’s resignation. Even worse, he said, is Diaz’s refusal to apologize.
“There is no room there for us to grow and to learn,” Williams said. “You can’t put a band aid on something if there is no acknowledgement that there is a wound.”
Williams said the rhetoric spewed by Diaz helps contribute to the abuse faced by LGBTQ people, including transgender black women, who he said are being “murdered with impunity.”
Notably absent from the event were the Council’s other two LGBTQ members, Speaker Corey Johnson of Chelsea and Ritchie Torres of the Bronx. The evening before, Johnson publicly called on Diaz to resign, while Torres, in a tweet, said he “must be held accountable for poisoning the political atmosphere with his homophobic conspiracy theories.” After the event, a spokesperson said, “Councilman Diaz will never apologize or resign. So the Council should strip him of his committee chairmanship to make an example of him.”
Some politicians took some swipes at Bronx leaders and at Johnson for his role in helping Diaz secure his spot as chair of the For-Hire Vehicles Committee.
“You have a Bronx party that embraced him,” said Mark-Viverito, who has apparently soured on Diaz, Sr. of late since she appeared happy to embrace him in a 2017 photo when she received a citation of merit from Ruben Diaz, Jr., the Bronx borough president. “That uplifted him, that pushed him forward. You have a speaker that gave him a committee and gave him an assignment. This is unacceptable.”
Van Bramer similarly said that “he was not happy” when Diaz was given his post as committee chair, but largely refrained from directly placing blame on Johnson.
Mark-Viverito called on Diaz’s son, the borough president, and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the chair of Bronx Democratic Party, to demand that the elder Diaz step down.
“Everyone, including the Bronx borough president, including the Bronx county leader, should demand his resignation,” Mark-Viverito said. “Nothing less than that. I have love in my heart but I have intolerance for bigotry and misogyny and homophobia.”
Johnson, speaking from Albany following his testimony on the state budget, said on Monday that Diaz should step down. He also said in a tweet on Sunday that the City Council is “currently reviewing all potential disciplinary scenarios” and that “nothing is off the table.”
The Ethics Committee was slated to review Diaz’s actions on Tuesday, according to Van Bramer, who said, “Whatever action is taken by the Ethics Committee, ultimately the full body is going to weigh in.”
“I would hope that all of our colleagues who have joined in the call for the councilmember to resign would — if we are all at some point forced to vote on it — would be willing to stand up and vote to inflict the most severe punishment allowed. If that is expulsion, we should all vote to expel Diaz from the Council. I don’t know if that is on the table. I heard the speaker say anything is on the table. I assume there will be a full investigation.”