Michael Benjamin, a member of the New York Post Editorial Board and the newspaper’s associate editorial page editor since 2016, took to Twitter on March 16 to pose a grotesquely insensitive question.
Using his Twitter handle @SquarePegDem, Benajmin wrote, “Perspective: If you tested positive, which virus would you prefer?” The two choices were HIV and COVID-19.
Response to the tweet was quick and harsh.
Marti Gould Cummings, a drag artist and comedian who is running for the District 7 City Council seat in Manhattan next year, wrote, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
@Poz_straight, who describes himself as an “HIV-positive Indian guy” who lives in Britain, tagged the New York Post and wrote, “Is it appropriate for one of your team to post something so offensive and stigmatising?”
And Jawanza James Williams, the director of organizing at VOCAL-NY, which does grassroots work on issues including poverty, homelessness, HIV/ AIDS, the drug war, and mass incarceration, wrote, “This kind of conjecture is what will lead to not only the proliferation of BOTH viruses because stigma stifles communication. And have you not seen the violence against people of Asian descent? THIS is how that happens. What violence will follow from this?”
Other Twitter uses took a more searing tack.
@adumbratingly wrote, “If lining the bottom of a birdcage, which would you prefer? (This is just for PERSPECTIVE, jeez!) New York Post” or “New York Post?”
And @d_arissutton, also writing from the UK, really let loose, tweeting, “If Michael Benjamin was on fire would you: Piss on on him” or “Let him burn?”
Benjamin was dismissive of his critics, responding, “It says ‘Perspective.’ You’re not forced to participate. If offended, please join another species.”
Benjamin’s Twitter profile, in addition to mentioning his responsibilities at the Post, describes him as a “thought leader” and “#54, City and State NY Bronx Power 100.” It also referes to his nearly eight years as a Democratic assemblymember from the Bronx.
During his time in the Assembly, from 2003 through 2010, Benjamin ducked out of a vote on marriage equality in 2007 and voted against the measure twice in 2009. In the third vote, Benjamin was one of only 51 members of the 150-seat Assembly to oppose the measure.
Benjamin did not respond to Gay City News’ Twitter question as to what the intention of his post was nor did the Post respond to a request for comment. Within two hours of his post, however, the responses to it were no longer visible on Twitter.
Benjamin did tip his hand a bit, however, in a different post that suggests he doesn’t take the whole coronavirus matter particularly seriously.
Shortly after his HIV/ coronavirus multiple choice, he posted the question, “Is it possible that if we tested for ‘ordinary’ flu during the height of the flu season, lots of New Yorkers would test positive and that many more than seven would be dead?”
Oh, he’s a real thought leader.
And of course that question makes you wonder how seriously he takes the decades-long fight against HIV.
Editor’s note: Despite Benjamin’s evident lack of seriousness about the coronavirus, the Post later circulated this statement through Rubenstein Public Relations: “Michael Benjamin’s tweet wasn’t meant maliciously — his intent was to compare the government’s response, or lack thereof, to both pandemics. But it was poorly executed, he has deleted it, and he apologizes.”