Sunday, April 24, 2011

NYS Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., Joe.My.God., The Village Voice, El Diario La Prensa, oh my...

It's been a grey, cold, rainy Spring day here in New York but an interesting exchange has been taking place between New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. and the venerable newsweekly The Village Voice over a post on Joe.My.God.

It all began yesterday when a reader of Joe.My.God. sent translated information from a Dominican Republic newspaper in which the State Senator announced an anti-marriage equality march and rally to take place in the Bronx on May 15th, 2011.  The reader's statement as posted on Joe's blog:
Radio Vision Cristiana, a New Jersey-based Spanish-language AM radio station that broadcasts religious programming, is planning a huge anti-gay march in New York City on May 15, 2011. It will be held in the Bronx (starting at noon the participants will march from 149th Street and Third avenue to [161st] street in the Bronx). The radio station, as well as the main organizer of the event, State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. are urging all Hispanics and especially evangelicals to oppose the possible legalization of same-sex marriages in New York State. Ruben Diaz is urging the participants "to paralyze all traffic in the Bronx" on that day. Organizers of the event expect up to 30,000 people to show up. A similar rally was held in 2009, it attracted about 20,000 people and took many city officials by surprise. 
In the original Spanish-language article, the Senator also riles against the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the city, El Diario La Prensa, and their longstanding editorial support for marriage equality and says he will launch a boycott of the newspaper.  From the article:
"On that day El Diario La Prensa will see a 20,000 issue drop in sales and, in this way, it will see that the Hispanic community in this city opposes marriage between people of the same sex and abortion," said Ruben Diaz.
In speaking against a woman's right to choose, the paper also says that the Senator argued that of 100 women who give birth, 48 "dump them into the trash" implying that the abortion rate in this country is 48% (on January 10th, the New York Times reported that even at it's peak in 1981, annual abortion rates never have reached past 2.9% of pregnancies).

Village Voice reporter Steven Thrasher, who wrote an amazing cover story profile of out soldier Dan Choi back in October, quickly picked up on Joe's post at the Voice's blog Runnin' Scared noting that May 15th, the planned rally date, was also the planned date for the annual AIDS Walk organized by GMHC.

That post, as the one on Joe.My.God., elicited some angry reactions including someone who hoped Diaz would "shortly die of natural causes".  That led others to write similar comments including some anonymous fucktard named "Wayne" to go a step further and write " you wish, Mr. Diaz... I can arrange your final resting place in a local dump."

Today, Senator Diaz responded on his website in a press statement titled "An Open Letter to the Editors of The Village Voice".  An excerpt
When I read the comments posted online that followed your article, I considered that you or your editors have espoused an "at all costs" approach to achieving your goal of passing a gay marriage bill. One reader, Wayne writes: " you wish, Mr Diaz.....I can arrange your final resting place in a local dump."

Would the authors and editors at the Village Voice have been so quick to tolerate any comments hoping for the demise or imminent death of one of their favorite political leaders? Or perhaps their purpose really was to draw out and encourage criminal acts by your readers....

It's so sad to see people in journalism abuse their positions, but it's outrageous to see how the editors of the Village Voice use their editorial discretion to facilitate and encourage homicide.
Dramatic much? Anonymous online trolling is what defines current online "debates" nowadays and there is no doubt in my mind that the Senator knows this.  That doesn't mean that he isn't smart enough to use it to his advantage and pretend he is a victim - particularly for someone who welcomes any press he can get.  In any case, Tony Ortega, editor of the Village Voice, responded today as well:
As you noticed, in a recent update to this blog by Steven Thrasher on how irrelevant you are becoming in New York's inexorable move to making marriage equality a reality in this state, I put a rather salacious headline on the piece: "Ruben Diaz, Sr.: Gay Marriage Over My Dead Body."

I wrote that headline in an attempt not only to get attention to Thrasher's reasoned, well-reported post, but also to characterize just how out of step with reality your opposition to gay marriage has become in a city where the national movement for gay rights began.

I did not, however, actually wish you dead, and if some of our commenters were similarly hyperbolic in their denunciations of you, I consider that unfortunate.

No, there certainly is no desire on my part or on the part of the Voice to hope for your early demise. In fact, you provide for us a valuable service, reminding us of how backward and mean-spirited many people in this country, and even many people in this otherwise enlightened city, are about human rights and basic human dignity.

The Voice in general, and Steven Thrasher in particular, has provided example after example of how loving, committed couples are denied the most basic of human rights because of bizarre and hate-filled screeds by the shortsighted emotional midgets of this country, of which you make a most convenient and visible example.

For that reason, if for no other, we want you to be around after the more responsible members of our political leadership adopt gay marriage, and for a long, long time after that.

So that we may never forget.
Tony, I believe, gets things only half-right.

There are websites and blogs that choose to moderate comments, like this one.  There are websites and blogs that choose not to do so, and I respect that as well. But I don't think Diaz ever referred to the Voice's blog post title.  Instead, I believe he was specifically responding to the comments left on the post and deliberately picking up on the 'local dump' post.

Simply stating, as Ortega did, that "if some of our commenters were similarly hyperbolic in their denunciations of you, I consider that unfortunate" (italics mine) is sadly akin to every time a homophobic personality apologizes for some homophobic outburst by qualifying the statement with "if anyone was offended by...".

As one of the largest-read gay blogs in the country, and as a blog that does not moderate comments, I am well-aware of the flack that Joe Jervis has gotten as the author of Joe.My.Blog. and the way he has been unfairly blamed for the thoughts of his readers.  Kudos, then, to Joe for following up on the story today and including the following statement:
Please do not leave comments making even the most idle of threats of physical harm or property damage against any persons or places. Longtime readers may recall that in late 2009, anti-gay and Christianist websites launched a campaign against JMG, claiming that readers were making "terrorist threats" against supporters of Proposition 8. Please contact me via email if you see any threats or calls to violence and I will dispatch them at once. Our enemies are reading every word you write.
Here is where it gets mightily dispiriting.  Even though Diaz is attacking 'teh geyz', a woman's right to choose and one of the major Latino media supporters of marriage equality in the United States, a large part of the angry visceral queer reaction to Diaz' statements doesn't really call for his head to roll --- but it certainly brings to mind the xenophobic Tea Party.

A [stomach-churning] sampling from responses on Joe's post asking for a moderate reaction:
  • I wish these people would go back to their 3rd world "democracies" where they can practice their vile discrimination.
  • Hispanics arriving on out of state church buses?....Take pictures of the buses and their affiliations, take pictures of the bussed in participants, and someone please clue in INS, just in case there are some "undocumented" protesters.
  • I agree with some of our other posters concerning full documentation of all the protesters being bussed in to participate in this event, regardless of any racial or nationalist agendas.  If your cause is so weak that any warm body will do, it is more than probable that some of these people might have documentation issues which need addressing.
The 'funny' thing is that Senator Diaz and a large number of his followers were born in Puerto Rico and, as such, have always been U.S. citizens.

There are a number of folk commenting on Joe's site who try to counter the xenophobia but, more often than not, they get attacked themselves as well.

The 'sad' thing is that it doesn't really surprise me because it's nothing new.  What amazes me is their mindless willingness to shoot themselves in the foot by alienating immigrant and non-immigrant Latinos who might support marriage equality.

I'll have some additional thoughts on this in my next post.

  • The Senator has a follow-up response he has titled "Protecting Marriage".
  • The Voice follows up. Ruben Diaz, Jr., the Senator's son and current Bronx Borough President, will not be participating in his father's rally.
  • Some have said that the fact that the march and rally has been scheduled on May 15th might have to do with the fact that it would fall on the same date as the AIDS Walk in Manhattan. Bob Kappstatter at the New York Daily News says there might be another reason: It's also the same date as the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade, which ends just six blocks away from the anti-gay rally.

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