From: gothamgazette.com

Anti-LGBT City Council Members Given Prominent Positions

By Samar Khurshid
February 09, 2018

 

Corey Johnson Fernando Cabrera City Council

Above: Corey Johnson and Fernando Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste) (photo below: John McCarten)


When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive person to hold the powerful position, unveiled his leadership team and Council committee assignments, he appointed two anti-LGBT Council members to chair committees, and named one to senior leadership in the 51-member legislative body. The moves seemed to have raised few eyebrows despite the stark contrast with Johnson’s life story and politics, as well as the politics of the overwhelming number of Council members.

Johnson created a new committee for Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative reverend who will chair the Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, and named Council Member Fernando Cabrera, also a socially conservative pastor known to hold anti-gay views, to lead the Committee on Governmental Operationsand serve as the majority whip on Johnson’s senior leadership team.

Both members, who represent districts in the Bronx, are outliers in the largely progressive body, holding far-right stances on LGBT rights and social issues in general. Their politics seem out of place not only in the City Council but in an overwhelmingly liberal city where Republicans often nominate socially progressive candidates and vote along the same lines. Notably, the Bronx Democratic County organization was key to supporting Johnson’s winning speakership bid, and a number of Bronx members were rewarded in kind when it came to committee and leadership assignments.

Diaz Sr., a former state Senator and minister who founded the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, was the sole dissenting Democrat on the state Legislature’s successful marriage equality bill passed in 2011. The bill was supported by four Republicans who were in the majority. Diaz Sr. also voted against the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) last year in a Senate committee vote, is a vocal opponent of abortion and, in 2003, sued the Department of Education over plans to expand the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan for gay students.  

Cabrera, the senior pastor at the New Life Outreach International church, has his own history of controversial statements and positions. In 2014, when he was serving his second term on the City Council, he praised the Ugandan government in a video posted online after it passed a law that criminalized homosexuality.

"Godly people are in government," Cabrera said of the country’s government, noting that gay marriage was not acceptable there and stating that the government had withstood pressure from the U.S. to allow it. “And they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation.”

Following a furor over his remarks in 2014, he later insisted, “I do not support the persecution of gays and lesbians anywhere, whether it's in Uganda or right here in New York State.”

For people familiar with Speaker Johnson’s personal history, which he wears on his sleeve, the move to empower the two conservative Council members could easily trigger a degree of cognitive dissonance. Johnson became famous as a teenager when he came out as gay while the captain of his high school football team in Massachusetts, and has often approached politics and legislation from the lens of his own lived experience. He represents a Manhattan district including Chelsea and the West Village, home to the gay rights movement and many of its leaders, including former State Senator Tom Duane, who Johnson has called a role model and mentor.

“For decades, the gay activist community has fought to keep people like Ruben Diaz Sr. and Fernando Cabrera out of positions of power,” said Allen Roskoff, a gay activist and president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, in a phone interview. “I find this shocking and cringeworthy.”

Several activists and elected officials were hesitant to criticize Johnson, whose election was celebrated by the LGBT community. But, Roskoff was not alone in his displeasure.

"Of course it's a big deal," said an LGBT Democratic insider, who requested anonymity to speak freely. "You have hate emanating from Washington on a daily basis; on the ground in New York City, bias attacks are happening more often; and to put two vocally anti-LGBT people in places where they have a bigger platform is really worrying and not something we want to see in a progressive body."

The insider also pointed out that Diaz Sr.'s and Cabrera's neighborhoods are where LGBT youth have long felt especially unsafe and unaccepted, and that those same young people need elected officials to be leaders for them, not spreading anti-LGBT sentiment that makes them less safe.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, New York State’s first openly gay legislator, was similarly disappointed, though she said she did not want to “second guess” Johnson’s decisions as speaker.

“I was pleased to have Reverend Diaz removed from the Senate Democrats because his anti-choice and his anti-LGBT attitude and aggressive rhetoric was destructive and unpleasant,” she said. “I’m sorry they’re in elected office. Just as I would not want to spend time and energy seeing that people who are actively homophobic are not elected to seats in other parts of the country, I’m not happy to see them in elected office here. You would have to ask the speaker what went into his thinking in giving them prominent positions.”

Gotham Gazette did ask Johnson about the decision on January 11, shortly after the new committee chairs were approved by the full Council. Though he insisted that he disagrees with Diaz Sr.’s and Cabrera’s positions on LGBT issues, he said that just as he does with certain Republican Council members and those within his own Democratic caucus, his new position as speaker requires him to treat each member equally.

“I’m gonna treat every member of this body with respect...Everyone knows where I stand on LGBT equality. No one can question my credentials on LGBT equality and I’m the Speaker of the Council and we’re going to push the envelope to expand protections for all New Yorkers, transgender New Yorkers, LGBT new Yorkers, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people of different religious faiths and beliefs,” he said. “That’s where I stand. I don’t agree with every member on everything but I’m still going to work collegially with every member of this body because that is part of my job now as Speaker of this Council.”

He also said that Cabrera’s view didn’t necessary align with his votes. Indeed, Cabrera voted in favor of a bill last year that banned gay conversion therapy in the city and supported a bill requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to create a plan to provide behavioral health services to LGBT individuals. Durign the race to become Speaker, Johnson caught some flack for visiting Diaz Sr. in the hospital, a visit that Diaz Sr. referenced on the day Johnson was officially elected Speaker.

Fellow Council members -- including LGBT members such as Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer and Carlos Menchaca -- also came to Johnson’s defense, insisting that conservative members would hardly have an effect on the larger policy agenda or leanings of the Council as a whole.  

“The foundation of this body requires us to listen to all sides of every issue and that’s what we’re going to be committed to this next session,” said Council Member Menchaca in a brief interview outside City Hall last week.

Council Member Van Bramer similarly said, “There’s good things that can come out of appointing a leadership team that is diverse and has opinions that contradict your own.”

Council Member Brad Lander, not a member of the LGBT caucus, echoed the view. “As long as the policies that we pursue represent the progressive values that [Speaker Johnson] articulated, that he continues to articulate, then I think it’s great to have a diverse leadership team in many ways,” he said.

Council Member Torres, from the Bronx, called Gotham Gazette upon hearing of the reporting of this article to show support for the speaker. The two members in question, he said, represent some of poorest districts in the city where it is a “particular imperative” to show equal representation. “I think it’s unreasonable to expect the Speaker of the Council to deny resources to lower-income districts simply because he rejects the social views of those who represent them. It’s unfair to begrudge the speaker for his obligation to represent everyone equally,” he said.

Ruben Diaz Sr. City CouncilTorres also refuted the possibility that the two members were rewarded for their support for Johnson’s ascension to the speakership, which owed to the backing from the Bronx and Queens County Democrats, as well as other members whose support Johnson had secured. Council members from both counties were handed the most powerful Council committees, with the land use committee going to Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx and finance to Queens Council Member Daniel Dromm, who is a member of the LGBT caucus.

“I think [Speaker Johnson’s] magnanimity transcends the normal transactions of the speaker race,” Torres said, noting that even though he also ran for speaker, he was given a plum position as chair of the newly empowered oversight and investigations committee. “I would do exactly what he’s doing as speaker,” he added.

“Winning coalitions reward their members,” observed one Council Member, who asked to remain unnamed.

Assemblymember Glick conceded that the speakership is a complicated position that requires keeping numerous stakeholders satisfied. “I’ve been in politics a long time and I understand that people in positions of authority have a very tough balancing act,” she said. “By the same token, I’m not happy about seeing people who have engaged in hateful rhetoric being given what in political terms would be seen as a reward.”

Regardless, she said, “I’m very proud of Corey. I consider him a friend and I will do whatever I can to make his tenure a successful and positive one.”

 

 

Officers

BOARD OF GOVERNORS

  1. Hon. Eric Adams
  2. George Arzt
  3. Lance Bass
  4. John Blair
  5. Mark Benoit
  6. Hon. Rodneyse Bichotte
  7. Hon. Jonathan Bing
  8. Erik Bottcher
  9. Robin Byrd
  10. Hon. Gale Brewer
  11. Christian Campbell
  12. Gus Christensen
  13. Hon. Martin Connor
  14. Tom Connor
  15. Hon. Jon Cooper
  16. Wilson Cruz
  17. Hon. Laurie Cumbo
  18. Alan Cumming
  19. Valorie Curry
  20. Michael Czaczkes
  21. Hon. Bill de Blasio
  22. Jon Del Giorno
  23. Aries Dela Cruz
  24. Kyan Douglas
  25. Hon. Daniel Dromm
  26. James Duff
  27. Hon. Ronnie Eldridge
  28. Hon. Rafael Espinal
  29. Hon. Alan Fleishman
  30. Hon. Dan Garodnick
  31. Dan Gettleman
  32. Jason Goldman
  33. Emily Jane Goodman
  34. Hon. Mark Green
  35. Tony Hoffmann
  36. Hon. Brad Hoylman
  37. Binn Jakupi
  38. Hon. Letitia James
  39. Hon. Corey Johnson
  40. Camille Joseph
  41. Phillip Keane
  42. Yetta Kurland
  43. Greg Lambert
  44. Dodge Landesman
  45. Chris Marchitello
  46. Phillip McCarthy
  47. Matt McMorrow
  48. Michael Mallon
  49. Mike C. Manning
  50. David Mansur
  51. Cathy Marino-Thomas
  52. Troy Masters
  53. Hon. Carlos Menchaca
  54. Hon. Rosie Mendez
  55. John Cameron Mitchell
  56. Donny Moss
  57. Barry Mullineaux
  58. Hon. Paul Newell
  59. Denis O'Hare
  60. America Olivo Campbell
  61. Noah Pfefferbilt
  62. Josue Pierre
  63. Bob Pontarelli
  64. Billy Porter
  65. Hon. Keith Powers
  66. Randy Rainbow
  67. Hon. Jenifer Rajkumar
  68. Hon. Gustavo Rivera
  69. Hon. Helen Rosenthal
  70. Maer Roshan
  71. Toby Russo
  72. Bill Samuels
  73. James Sansum
  74. Scott Sartiano
  75. Hon. Arthur Schwartz
  76. Lynn Schulman
  77. Frank Selvaggi
  78. Rev. Al Sharpton
  79. David Siffert
  80. Martin Sigal
  81. Hon. Jo Anne Simon
  82. Kathy Slawinski
  83. Tom Smith
  84. Anne Strahle
  85. Hon. Scott Stringer
  86. Wayne Sunday
  87. Hon. Bill Thompson
  88. JD Thompson
  89. Bjorn Thorstad
  90. Hon. Matt Titone
  91. Hon. Ritchie Torres
  92. Sam Underwood
  93. Jessica Walter
  94. Patricia Nell Warren
  95. Wil Weder
  96. Barry Weinberg
  97. Seth Weissman
  98. Emma Wolfe
  99. Hon. Keith Wright
  100. Zephyr Teachout