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Guest column by Tony Varona – Virulently Antigay NY State Senator Rev. Rubén Díaz Grilled On NY1

NOTE FROM PAM: You have to read the homophobic bleatings from Diaz to believe it. Just one quote from the interview, comparing being gay to being a drug addict.

Sen. Díaz: I came out of drugs, and one day I changed my mind and said, no more. I got out of drugs, and here I am.

Benitez: So being homosexual is like being a drug addict. That’s the comparison you just made.

Sen. Díaz: No, I’m just comparing for you how one can one day change his mind, because I one day was, and you keep wanting to find the twists and turns, and tomorrow the blogs will be saying, look at what he said, look at how he compared… but what I am saying is that I was homosex… look, now you have me all [mixed up]. I was a drug addict and left the military with a drug addiction. And one day, my mind changed and I no longer was a drug addict. But I was not born a drug addict. I was not born a drug addict.

Many thanks to Tony Varona for his analysis and taking the time to translate the Diaz interview.

Virulently Antigay NY State Senator Rev. Rubén Díaz (D-Bronx) Grilled Relentlessly on his Antigay Positions and Marriage Equality Obstructionism in Withering Interview on NY1 Spanish-Language Public Affairs Program

By Tony Varona

Activists familiar with the long, circuitous and still uncertain path towards marriage equality in the nation’s third most populous state know that the Rev. Rubén Díaz, Sr., has been one of the lawmakers most responsible for the failure of the New York state legislature to recognize civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Having represented parts of the Bronx in the State Senate since 2002, Díaz has forcefully criticized his fellow Democrats for supporting marriage equality and has long been instrumental in blocking legislation from reaching the Senate floor. He passionately spoke and voted against the failed 2009 marriage equality bill. More recently, Diaz co-sponsored a May 15th rally against marriage equality with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), and on May 4th called for a boycott against the Spanish-language El Diario La Prensa newspaper for having editorialized in favor of marriage equality.

A Pentacostal minister, Díaz last year responded to a question about the separation of church and state during an interview with anchor Juan Manuel Benitez on NY1’s Spanish-language sister newschannel, NY1 Noticias (NY1n) with a categorical rejection of the question’s premise. He proclaimed: “I am the Church and I am the State.” Benitez once again interviewed Sen. Díaz late last week on his Spanish-language NY1n public affairs program, Pura Politica. Video of the interview is here. Benitez’s focused and relentless questioning of Sen. Díaz was extraordinary.

As a Cuban-born native Spanish-speaker, I consume media in both English and Spanish. Time and again I have seen how bilingual and bicultural politicians, religious leaders and other public figures make outrageously defamatory and inaccurate statements against the LGBT community in Spanish media that they would never get away with making in English-language broadcast and print interviews. Much of the time, the interviewer allows them to make whatever outlandish and homophobic or transphobic claims about us without any follow-up questions or challenge of any sort. Not so with Juan Manuel Benitez’s 21-minute interview of Sen. Díaz.

Benitez repeatedly challenged Díaz’s antigay statements, demanded facts to back up his extreme claims, and ended up performing one of the most thorough, cringe-worthy journalistic grilling of a gay rights opponent I have ever seen, in any language.

Hispanophones can view the archived video and see for themselves. For those not familiar with Spanish, I have translated the most eye-opening segments of the interview below the fold.

Benitez: This legislation does not affect your church. It is a civil issue. Why are you still opposed?

Sen. Díaz: That is not the case.

Benitez: Someone will force you to [solemnize same-sex marriages]?

Sen. Díaz: Yes. According to the bill as written, and in the future, yes. Churches will be forced.

Benitez: That is not true. Let us talk about facts. We are talking about civil marriage. No one will go to your church to have you marry them.

Sen. Díaz: Marriage is marriage.

Benitez: Civil marriage.

Sen. Díaz: Marriage is marriage. And the bill as written… the bill does not exclude… as it is written specifically… does not exclude either churches or ministers specifically. It does not say it in the bill.

Benitez: The bill refers only to civil marriage, never to religious marriage.

Sen. Díaz: Marriage refers only to marriage between man and woman.

Benitez: The bill refers only to civil marriage, not religious marriage. Do you really think same-sex couples would go to your church to get married… to have you marry them?

Sen. Díaz: Well, who knows? They would come to my church so that I would refuse to marry them, and so that they could sue me, and mount a discrimination case. To mount a case in favor of stripping my church of taxes [tax exempt status], just because I would not marry them. […]

Benitez: I don’t know if you have read the bill, but the bill specifically excludes churches and deals only with civil marriage, which is performed by civil authorities. It deals with civil marriage and not religious marriage.

Sen. Díaz: One of the other senators just said that he would prefer if they would include – so that specifically it would be clear – that it would not force ministers and churches…

Benitez: And if the bill included that more specific language – that the churches would be excluded and there would be no problem with discrimination by churches – would that mean that you would vote in favor of civil marriage equality?

Sen. Díaz: For me, no, I would vote no because […]it is against nature… and it just should not exist.

On the complaints from certain members of the Latino community that Senator Díaz has been acting as if he were the official spokesperson for the entire Latino community, Sen. Díaz let out a raucous laugh (at 3:50) and then said:

Sen. Díaz: I’m so tired of this. It’s incredible. I don’t even want to respond to it. … The lies, and how they twist the truth and things to make their argument. They should be ashamed of themselves. How they twist things. How they want to take things and change them and say that this was said and this was not said, so that they can attract sympathy. They should be ashamed of themselves. This is not about hate. To the contrary, my (lesbian) granddaughter arrived (to the May 15th anti-marriage equality protest march he organized) and I hugged her… this is not about hate. Why do they continue to say that we want to hate? Everyone in America can choose what they want. Or to be in favor of something or against something. The churches are not about hate when it is not permitted to pray, and when it is not permitted to read the word of God. We’re not the ones who are hateful.

Benitez: Everyone is free, as you say, but you are denying the liberty of gay people to marry those whom they love.

Sen. Díaz: No, no I cannot pray in a school. I cannot read the word of God in a school. The teacher would throw me out. So there is no liberty. […] We are the ones who are being persecuted, and that Christians are persecuted. And that the Christian religion is persecuted when we cannot do the things that we want to do. We accept that. That’s fine. But don’t hate us. So don’t permit us to do those things… but why is it that these people… when one gets on something… oh ‘Hate!’

Benitez: So you are saying that that is not homophobia. That you are not a homophobe?

Sen. Díaz: Hate is what they do to me! With the threats they send me…

Benitez: So you do not accept the label of homophobe? You are not a homophobe?

Sen. Díaz: How can that be? How could that be? When I have relatives…

Benitez: I will read to you the definition of homophobia because I am a bit confused. Homophobia is “irrational and obsessive aversion to homosexuals.” You not only have demonstrated an aversion, but have said things like this, just 2 years ago: [footage from previous interview, with Benitez asking him whether he thinks homosexuality is a choice, and Díaz responding “It’s like sexual relations with animals… these are acts against nature…”]

Sen. Díaz: […] Nature shows us that relations between a man and a woman can create children. And that relations between two men or two women cannot result in procreation.

Benitez then played a second clip from NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s May 26th speech in support of the passage of marriage equality legislation. Bloomberg said: “The question for every New York State lawmaker is, do you want to be remembered as a leader on civil rights, or an obstructionist? Remember, on matters of freedom and equality, history has not remembered obstructionists kindly. Not on abolition, not on abortion, not on women’s suffrage, not on workers’ rights, not on civil rights, and it will be no different on marriage rights.”

Benitez: Senator, are you not concerned that in 10, 20, 30 years, when there are documentaries made on this subject – a subject that is now unstoppable with more and more nations and states recognizing same-sex marriage – that you will appear like those politicians in documentaries on the 1950s and 1960s who opposed civil rights? That you will appear to be like one of those [obstructionist] politicians in the history books?

Sen. Díaz: Firstly, Mayor Bloomberg and the people who dare to compare the suffering, the slavery, forcible deportations, the assaults suffered by the African-American community, from Africa – like they sold our relatives, brought them in ships, chained them together, sold them as slaves. People like Mayor Bloomberg who dare to compare all of that to the homosexual lifestyle disrespect and abuse the African-American community. The African-American community must not allow our suffering and past slavery to be used as a comparison to homosexual conduct. […] Second, the states that have civil [same-sex] marriage do not have it because the people have opted for it. In every state where the people have been given the right to vote [on marriage equality], including California, the people have rejected it. So what is it that happens? Well, there are millionaires like Bloomberg, who take their bundle of money and buy votes, leading the legislatures to impose same-sex marriage on the public.

Benitez: The end of legal racial segregation also was not put up to public vote. Those laws were federal dictates and orders direct from the presidency.

Sen. Díaz: Jews do not allow anyone to compare their suffering…

Benitez: But you will recognize that the gay community has had its own suffering…

Sen. Díaz: Like we Hispanics have suffered? Like Puerto Ricans have suffered? Like fat people have suffered? … In this world discrimination is massive. We Hispanics, we Puerto Ricans when we came to this country… and we still have it… but to compare that to Black slavery is disrespectful to the Black community.

Benitez: But the gay community also can claim that you have been disrespectful to it at many moments. You have had as a fundamental pillar of your career and your public persona your opposition to the homosexual community. In 2003, you opposed public funding for a school designed to serve gay students [referring to Díaz’s lawsuit against public funding for the Harvey Milk School, which argued that it discriminated against heterosexual students]

Sen. Díaz: Because I don’t believe in public funds…

Benitez: And in ’94, you objected to New York City’s hosting of the Gay Games. You said then, “some of the gay and lesbian athletes will arrive infected with AIDS” and you also said “children will conclude that if there are so many gay athletes, that there is nothing wrong with being gay.” Don’t you think that the gay community has reason to find these comments hurtful?

Sen. Díaz: Could be.

Benitez: The fundamental pillar of your career as a politician has been this theme.

Sen. Díaz: Wait, where are we? We are in America. Aren’t we in the United States of America where the freedom of expression guarantees us the right to be in favor of some things and not others? So now they are telling me that I cannot believe what I believe?

Benitez: Well, it is really that you are infringing on the rights of gay people who are interested in marrying the people that they love, is it not?

Sen. Díaz: No, you can fall in love with whomever you want, my brother. You can fall in love with whomever you want, and enjoy yourself with whomever you want, but what I don’t approve of is [civil same-sex] marriage. And I vote with my vote.

On his recent call for a boycott against El Diario La Prensa for being too much in favor of gay equality:

Benitez: That freedom of expression that you talk about you seem to deny to El Diario La Prensa, against whom you have organized a boycott after it editorialized in favor of marriage equality.

Sen. Díaz: And in favor of abortion.

Benitez: So you would like to silence the expression of El Diario La Prensa?

Sen. Díaz: No, what I want is equality. The thing is that El Diario does not cover any of our events, does not cover our parades for children, […] They don’t cover pastors, they don’t cover religious events, they cover nothing.

Benitez: They cover what they consider to be newsworthy.

Sen. Díaz: What I want is equality and balance. What I am saying is not that they shouldn’t be covering that [marriage equality], but that they should be balanced and cover that as well as our side. In journalism it is important to be impartial.

Benitez: But every newspaper has an editorial board and an opinion page and runs editorials where it expresses its own opinions.

Sen. Díaz: No not the editorials, their pages for everything. Journalism in America has to be impartial. Cover this and cover that. But if you are only going to cover one side…

Benitez: It seems to me like you like to engage arguments when it is convenient to you and evade them when it is not.

Sen. Díaz: Well, I am in America and I am only one person and I don’t understand why when I am only one person against so many millionaires contributing and the press advocating for homosexual marriage and I am the only one attacked.

Benitez: Well, I will repeat to you that you have based your career and public persona on the fundamental pillar of this subject. So you can’t hide your hand after you have thrown the rock.

Sen. Díaz: They are the ones who want publicity and attack me to get it.

On his opposition to the City’s hosting of the Gay Games in 1994:

Benitez: You make many comments that many people find insulting.

Sen. Díaz: They are not insulting. What I am saying is that when the Olympics came, Michael Jordan [sic – he apparently meant Magic Johnson] was prohibited from leaving this country, and other countries over there prohibited Michael Jordan [sic] from crossing their borders because he had AIDS [sic – Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan, has HIV, which has not progressed to AIDS]. So what I said was why is it that we should permit them [the Gay Games athletes] to enter here…?

Benitez: So was it not because you thought that children would think that there was nothing wrong with being gay?

Sen. Díaz: Yes, I say that today.

Benitez: So you would say that today? So is the criticism against you not justified when you say such things about the gay community?

Sen. Díaz: No, because for me, as pastor and minister, homosexuality, Biblically, should not be.

On his prognostications, warnings, comparisons, and call for a public referendum on same-sex marriage:

Benitez: …Are you not afraid of turning out to be like one of those pastors who prognosticate the end of the world, as what happened last week, in your having warned about the horrors of marriage equality when the truth is that in many nations around the world the doomsayers have been proved wrong? […]

Sen. Díaz: I do announce the end of the world.

Benitez: For when?

Sen. Díaz: For when God wants.

Benitez: Of course. That’s how you hedge your bets. […] But again I ask you whether you are not concerned about being like one of those charlatan pastors announcing the end of the world and in the end the world proves them wrong by not ceasing to exist?

Sen. Díaz: So you are calling me a charlatan because I oppose homosexual marriage?

Benitez: No, but you have been saying that all sorts of tragedies will befall society if we have homosexual marriage. But many countries around the world have legalized [same-sex] marriage and have not suffered any of the harms you warn about. You express an opinion but no data, no facts.

Sen. Díaz: So why not just insist on a referendum and permit the 20 million New Yorkers be the ones to decide if they want it or not? Why not do that instead of impose it upon them by buying senators’ votes, and buying minds and consciences.

On homosexuality as choice, and its similarity to drug addiction:

Benitez: To conclude, Senator, you also put out a press release this Thursday, critical of Mayor Bloomberg, in which you kept referring to the “homosexual lifestyle.” So you think that this is a lifestyle – a lifestyle that can be chosen? You think that homosexuals one day wake up and decide, ‘today I am going to fall in love with someone of the same sex?’

Sen. Díaz: I think, I think, I think that, I think that, I think that homosexual conduct – because there have been homosexuals that have changed their conduct.

Benitez: So I ask you, if it is a choice, you too by that very rationale might get up – might awaken — tomorrow morning and say, ‘I will fall in love with a man.’

Sen. Díaz: I could.

Benitez: You think that you could?

Sen. Díaz: Yes, I could.

Benitez: So you would be capable of doing so?

Sen. Díaz: Well, I don’t know if I would be capable of that, but one could make the case.

Benitez: One could make the case?

Sen. Díaz: One could make the case that tomorrow they will get up with an atrophied mind, different, and will change their thing. […] Listen, I came out of drugs.

Benitez: But you are once again comparing…

Sen. Díaz: I came out of drugs, and one day I changed my mind and said, no more. I got out of drugs, and here I am.

Benitez: So being homosexual is like being a drug addict. That’s the comparison you just made.

Sen. Díaz: No, I’m just comparing for you how one can one day change his mind, because I one day was, and you keep wanting to find the twists and turns, and tomorrow the blogs will be saying, look at what he said, look at how he compared… but what I am saying is that I was homosex… look, now you have me all [mixed up]. I was a drug addict and left the military with a drug addiction. And one day, my mind changed and I no longer was a drug addict. But I was not born a drug addict. I was not born a drug addict.

H: That is where we will leave it.

Tony Varona is a law professor and academic dean at the American University Washington College of Law. He is on the board of directors of GLAAD and is the former general counsel/legal director for HRC & HRC Foundation.

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