Bronx City Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., a notoriously homophobic lawmaker, is under fire for making homophobic comments last week about the City Council and its openly gay speaker, Corey Johnson — and he’s still refusing to cave in to his colleagues’ demand for an apology.
“When I get to the City Council, I find that the City Council is controlled — most councilmembers out of 51 councilmembers — over there, everybody is controlled by the homosexual community,” he said during a Spanish-language program known as “El Desahogo,” according to NY1 News.
The conservative Democrat, who returned to the City Council last year after spending more than a decade in the State Senate, also said Johnson is a “homosexual” and falsely stated that he is married to another man. He later said he “misspoke” when he said Johnson is married, but stood by his other comments.
Calls to Diaz’s office and emails to his staff were not returned by Saturday evening.
[Editor’s note: On Saturday evening Gay City News editor-in-chief Paul Schindler spoke to PIX11 News about the Diaz comments.]
Many local politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, immediately called on Diaz to apologize to the LGBTQ community and to those in the City Council, particularly the speaker. A spokesperson for the speaker said Diaz, Sr., should “apologize to all of his colleagues, and the entire LGBTQ community.”
“Councilmember Díaz Sr.’s homophobic comments are offensive to both the speaker and the body, and have no place in New York City,” the spokesperson added.
Diaz subsequently tried washing his hands clean of any wrongdoing when he said in a tweet Saturday morning that he was “giving them credit for the power and influence they have” and asked what was so homophobic about his comments.
Councilmember Brad Lander of Brooklyn responded directly on Twitter, saying “Rev. Diaz, it is homophobic to say LGBTQ community controls @NYCCouncil, just like it is anti-Semitic to say Jews control the media … @CoreyinNYC was elected Speaker b/c he worked the hardest, made strategic moves, and ultimately won all our votes. Not b/c the LGBTQ community controls him or us. Ascribing his success to his being gay is classic stereotyping. It diminishes his personal accomplishments, and reinforces bias against LGBTQ New Yorkers. That’s why it is homophobic.”
In a follow-up interview with News 12, the elder Diaz continued to dig himself a deeper hole, saying the LGBTQ members of the Council are “not the victim… They are in control, they have power, influence.”
Councilmembers Jumaane Wiliams of Brooklyn, Mark Levine of Manhattan, Rafael Salamanca, Jr. of the Bronx, Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan, Rafael L. Espinal, Jr. of Brooklyn, Barry Grodenchik of Queens, and former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan were among others who chided Diaz and demanded an apology. Mark-Viverito, Williams, and Espinal are among the candidates in the February 26 public advocate special election.
Even Diaz’s son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., joined the chorus on Saturday afternoon, calling his father’s statements “antagonistic, quarrelsome, and wholly unnecessary. He should apologize.”
LGBTQ groups responded in similar fashion. The Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn called the comments “homophobic, period,” while the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City also asked for an apology.
And while most were seeking an apology, out gay Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, recalling in a tweet the pain he felt as a gay youth without role models, wrote, “To see this hatred of us makes me livid. I don’t want an apology. I want him to resign.” Bronx State Senator Gustavo Rivera, also on Twitter, said that Diaz, Sr., should resign, even if he “he won’t listen to me.” Public advocate candidate Nomiki Konst also called for him to quit, saying “it’s time for @revrubendiaz to take his bigotry out of the Council and step down.”
Diaz, Sr., said during last week’s interview that, upon his arrival to City Council, he sat down with Diaz, Jr. and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the Bronx Democratic Party chair. The pair asked, “Daddy, what is it that you want in the Council?” He said he wanted to be the chair of the Transportation Committee, but had to settle for chair of the For-Hire Vehicle Committee, which had not previously existed.The Transportation Committee continues to be chaired by Ydanis Rodriguez, another candidate for public advocate who has been repudiated by LGBTQ political groups because of his support for the elder Diaz.
Diaz, Sr., said he now fears he will be stripped of his position, reports News 12 Brooklyn.
Johnson, who spearheads the divvying up of assignments in the Council in his capacity as speaker, rejected the notion that Diaz, Sr., got the committee assignment he wanted — and by extension the implication that Johnson won the support of the Bronx delegation in his speakership bid because he accommodated the elder Diaz’s wishes.
“All of the appointments are based on merit, expertise, and familiarity with issues covered by each committee,” Johnson said through his spokesperson, according to NY1. “Council Member Díaz, Sr., represents many of the for-hire vehicle drivers this Council has been trying to help in a time of unprecedented turmoil in the industry, and the Council has produced excellent work in this legislative session.”
Notorious for his anti-gay views, Diaz, Sr., has shown hostility toward the community for decades. He wrote in 1994 that the Gay Games in New York “would lead to an increase in AIDS cases and to wider acceptance of homosexuality by young people.”
As a state senator, he held multiple rallies in opposition to same-sex marriage before his colleagues ultimately passed the Marriage Equality Act in 2011.