Advocates in the Bronx plan to hold a press conference Friday afternoon to show that the majority of residents support marriage equality despite the vocal opposition of state senator Ruben Diaz Sr., who represents the borough.
Last month the Puerto Rican state senator and Pentecostal minister hosted a march and rally against marriage equality in the South Bronx that drew 2,500 participants and speakers including Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. While Albany insiders downplay the Democrat's ability to influence a pending marriage vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, the volume of his homophobic comments has attracted outsize attention from some activists and generated the most visible, if controversial, political theater around the issue. Diaz is the subject of a gay erotica contest at a Brooklyn bar next week, and activists carried a cardboard cutout of him dressed in drag to help raise money at AIDS Walk, held in Manhattan on the same day as his event, May 15.
Joined by elected officials and organizations including members of the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition, local activists will gather at the Bronx Borough Courthouse in the South Bronx on Friday afternoon to present a different face of the borough. They note that of the six state senators who represent the Bronx, five of them support marriage equality, and three are Latino, representing half of the six-member Puerto Rican and Latino Caucus in the state senate.
"The Bronx is united, and the Bronx is united for marriage, not against marriage," said Dirk McCall, a spokesman for the newly formed Bronx Rainbow Independent Democratic Association, which is organizing the press conference with Marriage Equality New York. "We want people to know that his rally doesn't speak for the Bronx. This is the true Bronx coming out today."
Indeed, recent surveys suggest that Diaz holds the less popular opinion in the Bronx, a borough where 52% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census. A Siena poll from May, which found that a majority of voters statewide support marriage equality, found that among Hispanics and Latinos, support stood at 55% compared to 41% opposed. According to a Williams Institute study, more same-sex couples are raising families in the Bronx than any other borough, adding local urgency to the marriage push.
During the press conference, the advocates plan to announce their own march and rally scheduled for August 7. The event will follow the same route that Diaz took through the South Bronx last month, and it will be led by BRIDA and Erica Diaz, the lesbian granddaughter of the state senator who was discharged from the Navy under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. She is one of multiple gay relatives of the state senator, including two gay brothers.
While most recognized for his opposition to marriage equality, last year Diaz helped kill the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a long-awaited transgender rights bill, in committee. Advocates want to send a message about the profound and unique needs beyond marriage equality in the borough, which historically has posed challenges for organizers and last year was the site of a brutal gang-related antigay hate assault. The list of Bronx concerns includes the city's largest concentration of transgender people of color, the HIV epidemic, and a significant population of homeless LGBT youth.