NEW YORK — As a New York state senator, Rubén Díaz Sr. once sued to stop a high school for gay and transgender students from opening. Several years later, in 2011, Díaz held a rally to oppose same-sex marriage while his gay granddaughter held a counter rally across the street.
Times have changed. Díaz, a Pentecostal minister, has not.
Díaz, a Bronx Democrat now on the City Council, said last week in a Spanish-language radio interview that his colleagues first shunned him because the council was “controlled by the homosexual community.”
His remarks were immediately greeted with calls for him to resign, or, at the very least, apologize. Those calling for an apology included Díaz’s son, Rubén Díaz Jr., the Bronx borough president and a leading mayoral candidate in 2021; he said on Twitter that his father’s remarks were “antagonistic, quarrelsome and wholly unnecessary.”
He said in an interview Monday that he has spoken to his father to ask him to apologize, but his father has refused. “I can understand why folks are calling for him to resign. I can understand the hurt,” Rubén Díaz Jr. said.
The elder Díaz, who often wears a cowboy hat in public, has a reputation for a shoot-from-the-hip style that rarely accounts for diplomacy.
In 1994, he was rebuked by his fellow members of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police oversight body, for denouncing the Gay Games, which were held in New York, saying that the participants were likely “infected with AIDS,” and that the event could lead children “to conclude that if there are so many gay and lesbian athletes, then there is nothing wrong nor any risks involved.”
Then, as now, Rubén Díaz Sr. was unapologetic, denying accusations that he was homophobic.
“What’s homophobic about saying that the gay community controls the nyc city council?” Díaz wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “I’m giving them credit for the power and influence they have.”
He did express remorse to those disappointed in his refusal to resign, saying that only his district’s constituents had the power to force him out, on Election Day.
“I am the victim here,” the councilman said in his district office. “And I will not apologize, with all due respect, because I did not do anything wrong. They have proven me right.
“The only people who can demand my resignation are the people of my district, and even that has to wait until November,” he added. “Before that, they can ask for all the resignations in the world, but there will be no resignation.”
The City Council is already exploring disciplinary action against him: The Committee on Standards and Ethics, at the behest of several council members who have complained, will open an investigation. If Diaz is found guilty of “disorderly conduct,” which could include violating “policies against discrimination and harassment,” Díaz could be reprimanded, censured, fined or expelled from the City Council by a two-thirds vote of its members.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay and HIV-positive, used his personal Twitter account to note that he shared the “anger and pain” of Díaz’s colleagues about “deeply offensive comments” about the gay community.
“We are currently reviewing all potential disciplinary scenarios,” Johnson said in a statement. “Nothing is off the table.”
By Monday, Johnson, who is exploring a run for mayor, said his position had evolved, and he called for Díaz to resign.
“My personal viewpoint is that he should resign. It’s unacceptable. It’s Trumpian,” Johnson said of Díaz’s remarks. “There’s no level of contrition. There’s no level of understanding of how hurtful this is. He has doubled down with his level of rhetoric.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not call for Díaz to resign but characterized his remarks as “outrageous” and “disrespectful.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said of Diaz, “Unless he apologizes, he should leave.”
Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, did not directly call for a resignation, but suggested that Díaz be stripped of the chairmanship of the Council’s For-Hire Vehicles Committee, a critical role given the recent discussion over the effect of ride-hail services. Stringer also endorsed Amanda Farias, the director of a nonprofit, who came in second to Diaz in the Democratic primary in 2017, and has announced that she will run for the seat again in 2021.
Other calls for his resignation, especially over social media, have spread quickly. David Kilmnick, president and chief executive of the New York LGBT Network, was among those demanding that Díaz step down.
Far from being a compliment, Díaz’s remarks, first reported by NY1, are a “way to trigger people’s biases and instill fear,” he said.
Robert Feldman, Díaz’s personal lawyer since the 1980s, said that his client is not homophobic.
“He’s a very religious Pentecostal minister. That’s his faith,” said Feldman, who is gay and married.
Feldman noted that Díaz has two brothers who are gay, and that he believes that Díaz is able to compartmentalize his faith and his personal interactions with gay people.
“He sees us as powerful and competent,” Feldman said.
In the interview at his district office, Díaz did refer to the power of the gay and lesbian community, but in a less complimentary way.
“The LGBT community demands that Rev. Díaz resigns!” he said. “Look at how they start demanding, and everybody starts roaring. Even my friends are abandoning me. I wish I could have that power, but I don’t.”
He said that his stances against abortion and same-sex marriage have “created an antagonism toward me.”
“My freedom of religion is being taken away,” he said. “So when they talk about tolerance, what exactly are they talking about?”
Díaz’s son, when asked if his father should be expelled from the City Council, said that he had “no influence here.”
“If it was up to me, he would have apologized already,” the son said. “I was raised that all actions have consequences.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.