"I never meant to make fun or belittle human beings who have been marginalized and harassed," Mejía said in a statement. "If that was misinterpreted as an insult, I have no problem offering my apologies and reiterating that it was not, nor is, nor would be my intention; that's not how I behave."
Mejía was referring to the Spanish word "mariconcito" which translates to "little faggot" in English and which he used last week when he joking that a campaign consultant suggested he practice sitting down like a "mariconcito" when doing media appearances if he wanted his poll numbers to increase.
In today's statement Mejía defended himself by saying "mariconcito" was just a commonly used colloquial term which "activists" misinterpreted as being homophobic.
The comments caught wide-spread Spanish-language press interest in the United States last week and in the Dominican Republic this weekend after New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito released an official statement deploring them and asking for an apology.
LGBT groups in the Dominican Republic have mounted a campaign asking people not to support Mejía in his new presidential bid based on the comments.
In New York, well-known political commentator Gerson Borrero filed this blistering video op-ed on the Time Warner Cable's New York 1 en Español calling on New York City politicians of Dominican descent to stand up against Mejía's homophobia.
"I think there are Dominican politicians here in New York and in particular those who call themselves 'progressive' who should denounce that one of their presidents has shown up here to sow his hate," Borrero states, adding: "Did someone swallow your tongues? Or are you afraid of Hipólito? He who stays silent grants consent. Don't be cowards! Don't fear the pig! Or are you laying in the same pigsty?"
Last week Mejía also made comments opposing same-sex marriage during an interview with a local Univision affiliate and during a meeting with Latino reverends at the office of New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. in the Bronx - a leading opponent of same-sex marriage rights.
It's worth noting that at least one of the leading local Dominican politicians Borrero implicitly takes to task for not speaking up about Mejía was seen yesterday at Senator Diaz's office.
Meeting with a coalition of taxi based at @revrubendiaz's office with @EspaillatNY @marcoscrespo85 @vpichardo86 pic.twitter.com/yE2GBvHjcSThat would be New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat who would be a powerful voice against Mejía's homophobia but seems more beholden to Reverend Diaz these days.
— Luis Sepulveda (@LuisSepulvedaNY) April 7, 2015
At least one person in the Dominican Republic sees Mejía's attempt at an apology to be somewhat of a victory for LGBT rights in the Caribbean nation.
Creo que es la primera vez que un líder político de RD pide disculpas por sus declaraciones. http://t.co/PS8At1Bs39"I think it is the first time that a political leader in the Dominican Republic says he is sorry about his declarations" tweeted Jose Carlos Nazario late this afternoon.
— Jose Carlos Nazario (@jcnazario) April 8, 2015
Update #1: At least one Dominican LGBT rights organization is saying that the former president has apologized directly to them and wanted to meet with them on Friday. Here is what the organizers of the annual Dominican LGBT pride caravan tweeted tonight:
El expresidente Hipolito hoy nos remitió disculpa y nos solicitó una reunión para este viernes darnos sus excusas a la comunidad LGBT"Ex-president Hipólito forwarded us an apology today and asked us for a meeting this Friday to explain his reasons to the LGBT community"
— Orgullo_RD (@Orgullo_RD) April 9, 2015
Update #2: Other Dominican presidential candidates are responding to Mejía's homophobic outbursts. Today during a radio interview Luis Abinader said that he was certain he would be his party's candidate for the presidential elections and that he would extend an invitation to Mejía to become one of his campaign consultants but he also said this...
"I believe we should respect the sexual orientation of all Dominicans. There cannot be prejudice, there cannot be any type of limitations or exclusions. That's where I stand."
In June of 2014 Abinader had already drawn fire from a prominent evangelical pastor for a letter he sent to LGBT organizations supporting their rights. Rev. Paulino Moya warned Abinader he could lose the Catholic vote if he continued supporting "sodomites."
Update #3: In the wake of Mejía's comments at least one LGBT-rights organization in the Dominican Republic publicly expressed support for the former president. "Hipólito has no ill will towards lesbians and gays," said someone who identified herself as Biemba from the Santo Domingo North Homosexual and Gay Collective when interviewed by radio station z101.
On Thursday, April 9th, Mejía was more than happy to appear at an unrelated protest surrounded with members of the organization carrying rainbow flags as their president asked gays and lesbians to forgive him
- Former Dominican president responds to anti-gay slur controversy (The Washington Blade)