Ruben Diaz Sr. says he is not going anywhere. Nor is he apologizing for recent remarks that a lot of New Yorkers took as homophobic. And that was just what his supporters wanted to hear at a rally for him this week.
Bronx residents gathered at 2347 Lafayette Ave on Thursday in support of the city council member. Faces of all different races were in the crowd, and the ages ranged from teenagers skipping school to senior citizens bundled up in coats and scarves. “Ruben Diaz, the town is with you!” they chanted. Some held signs that said “Do not resign and do not apologize.”
Earlier in the week, Diaz had told the audience of a Spanish-language radio station that the New York City Council is “controlled by the homosexual community.” Even Diaz’s son, Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx Borough President, joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and others who criticized Diaz Sr. for the remarks. He is facing calls to resign from the Council Speaker Corey Johnson and others. An ordained minister as well as a former state senator, he has long opposed same-sex marriage.
The City Council voted on Wednesday, 45 to 1 to kill Diaz Sr.’s For-Hire Vehicles Committee, which was formed a year ago. The committee was designed to deal with issues relating to New York’s taxi and limousine commission. The committee’s work will be handed off to the Transportation Committee.
Diaz is refusing to apologize, although he did sound like he had some regrets. “I am not using the term homosexual anymore, I promise,” Diaz Sr. told the crowd in Spanish on Thursday afternoon.
This is not the first time the council member in the trademark cowboy hat has been in hot water regarding comments about gay people. In 1994 Diaz criticized the sports festival called the Gay Games and wrote that “they are likely to be already infected with AIDS or can return home with the virus.” In 2009, in an interview with NY1, he was asked if being gay was an option. He compared it to the option of bestiality—“A lot of people want that, too.” Elected officials have been on edge for some time regarding some of his remarks and the recent comments seemed to put them over the edge.
But Diaz Sr.’s supporters stood behind him. Alicia Guitierrez, born and raised in the Bronx, said Diaz Sr. was her Bible study teacher back in 1964. “He is an honest man. He is for everybody, and his intentions were never to offend anyone in the LGBT community,” she said, as she lifted her sign in the air. “He is a leader and he has a right to speak.”
As Diaz Sr. took the stage, following supportive comments from leaders in the Bangladesh and Muslim community as well as Christian church leaders. Diaz began his statement by introducing his granddaughter, Erica Diaz, a member of the LGBT community, who stood beside him.
“I have nothing against the LGBT community,” he said as he embraced her with a hug. “I love my granddaughter and my intention was not to offend anyone in that community.” He argued that he himself had been discriminated against since he entered office.
Diaz Sr. also took some shots at fellow council members Corey Johnson and James Van Bramer, two men he said he had helped over the years. “Where are my friends when I need you?” he said. “When I’m down you are nowhere to be found.”