Was Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr.’s homophobic boycott against NY’s ‘El Diario La Prensa’ effective?

by Guest Contributor Andrés Duque, originally published at Blabbeando

El Diario

I’ve been on such a light blogging schedule as of late that I haven’t even written about passage of the marriage equality law in New York State last month or the legal marriages between same-sex couples that began last week. I have no doubt, though, that readers of this blog caught wind of the developments elsewhere.

But there remain some interesting angles that haven’t been covered or have gone under-reported in English language media and the following story is one of them.

Last April, as foes of marriage equality in New York ramped up efforts to convince state legislators not to bring a marriage equality bill up for a debate, news filtered out that New York State Senator and Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr. (D-Bronx) would be headlining a rally in his home borough in opposition of the bill. The rally, which I attended on May 15th, wasn’t the first or last rally Diaz would lead on the issue, but something new emerged: A call to boycott the leading Spanish language newspaper in New York City, El Diario La Prensa, over their long-standing editorial support for marriage equality.

News of the boycott first surfaced in a Spanish-language Dominican Republic newspaper in which the Reverend promised that it would lead to a single-day newspaper stand sale drop of 20,000 copies. Here is what Diaz said about the boycott at the Bronx rally…

Diaz implied to the crowd that it was God who ordered the boycott (at the :54 second mark):

Our God has indicated to me to ask you to send a message to El Diario La Prensa. The fifty cents that you spend in buying the newspaper – with those fifty cents you are contributing to the promotion and the promulgation of marriage between a man with a man and a woman with a woman and abortion. And you are a son of God… You are a daughter of God… You are child of God. Starting tomorrow Monday, I am calling on all of you not to dare give fifty more cents to El Diario La Prensa. Kick them out! It’s out they go! Out! Out! Out!

I must be jaded and gotten used to all the other homophobic religious nuttery that took place that day because the call to censure the press in the name of God was one of the most chilling things I heard on that day. Days earlier, Diaz – true to his disregard of the separation of church and state – posted a diatribe against El Diario on his Senate website in which he directly quoted the Bible (“He who is not with us, is against us – Luke 9:50″). On May 28th, Diaz also appeared on New York 1 en Español’s weekly political show “Pura Política” defending his attack on freedom of expression to the show’s host Juan Manuel Benitez ( at the 4:23 minute mark):

JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ: This freedom of expression, to say what you want to say, you don’t extend it to El Diario La Prensa? You’ve been organizing a boycott based on the editorial content of El Diario La Prensa because they back same-sex marriage…
SEN. RUBEN DIAZ, SR.: And abortion, and abortion, because…
JMB: So you want to silence El Diario La Prensa’s freedom of expression.
DIAZ: No, I want to be granted equality. I want to be granted equality.
JMB: And what is equality. Which is the equality.
DIAZ.: Equality means that El Diario La Prensa doesn’t cover any of our activities. They don’t cover our children’s parades…
JMB: They did cover your rally from a couple of weeks back…
DIAZ: Nooooo, oh, man, it was just miniscule coverage. They don’t cover the Day of the Pastor, they don’t cover religious activities, they don’t cover a thing. They only cover…
JMB: Perhaps they only cover what they consider to be newsworthy…
DIAZ: So us… the Evangelical people don’t have the right… We don’t have to spend fifty cents to buy it. That doesn’t… that doesn’t… we are in America!
JMB: You are taking away their freedom of expression.
DIAZ: Ah! So is it an attack… for… for… for us to inhibit our right to express our position. Give me equality, and let’s say we’ll be on even keel. I’m not saying ‘Do not write about that’. What I’m saying is: Why is it that you write only about that side… and don’t write about this side. Journalism should be impartial. Which is what I just told you about Blabbeando.

Yes, Diaz plugged this blog as an example of the ‘fair and balanced’ coverage he should get at El Diario. Sigh.

Diaz, of course, lost big time when it came to blocking the recognition of marriage equality in New York State. Question is, having pulled out all his forces to hurt the sales of El Diario La Prensa, did his supposedly God-mandated boycott work?

For an answer let’s go back to Friday’s edition of “Pura Politica” in which El Diario La Prensa’s long-time Chief Operating Officer and Editor Rossana Rosado sat down to publicly address the issue for the first time. I have a feeling you might be surprised…

In the clip Rosado discusses the Diaz boycott somewhat reluctantly and seemingly hesitant to give it more publicity than it’s worth. She explains why they chose not to address it directly initially and also reveals, for the first time in a public venue, why passage of the marriage equality law in New York State hit so close to home. Here is the full transcript:

JUAN MANUEL BENITEZ: An elderly couple made history on Sunday when they became New York City’s first gay marriage. Phyllis Siegel, a 77 year old retired librarian, and her wife Connie Kopelov, an 84 year old retired activist and labor leader, sealed their 23-year old relationship by getting married – legally. Hundreds of same-sex couples did the same and have continued doing so all week long. This historic event and the debate that preceded and led to it was followed closely by the oldest Spanish-language publication in the city, EL DIARIO LA PRENSA. With us, today, is their Editor and Executive Director ROSSANA ROSADO, many thanks for being with us [RS: Thank you for the invitation]. ROSSANA, why this issue and the way it was covered by EL DIARIO and, in particular – to get started – how did you experience the news at EL DIARIO LA PRENSA once it became a reality on Sunday…

RS: It’s not the first time. People seemed to take it as something unique but at EL DIARIO we have spent years backing gay marriage. It wasn’t something new. We have always been in favor of civil rights – and that aspect of the debate – and I think it became news because EL DIARIO’s stand became so widely known. But we – as Latinos and New Yorkers – have always have always backed marriage rights for gays.

JMB: But you must know that there is the perception – in this country and in this city – that the Hispanic community is very conservative, very religious, and is not in favor of homosexual marriage. How is the experience at an institution such as EL DIARIO LA PRENSA – which has existed for almost a century – that goes against the grain of what people think the Hispanic community is like.

RR: Well, nevertheless, we have always been a very inclusive community. If someone says that they are against gay marriage based on their religious beliefs they more than likely have a gay son, brother or cousin who opposes [their view]. In other words, as a community we are a little more complex than that. Conservative? Perhaps. But we always have… – for example – the gays have always marched at at the Puerto Rican Parade. We never had the issues, for example, that have existed with the St. Patrick’s Parade. And… look, we have never seen any backlash from our readers or public as a reaction to our editorial position or the support we gave it on this occasion.

JMB: And what many people have been asking: Did you sit down at the editorial room in EL DIARIO LA PRENSA and said “We’ll go along… we will choose this path… we will support homosexual marriage openly and will we do it in such and such a way”? In other words, was there such a meeting? Was it decided that this would be the editorial line?

RR: Well, as I said, our editorial line isn’t something new. We have always had it. I believe our editorial line is consistent with our support for civil rights, immigration rights, social justice, so it’s part of our trajectory of fighting for rights we believe to be civil rights. So it’s not only a religious debate. If one believes certain rights are civil rights, how can you be opposed to marriage rights… that doesn’t make sense. And for me, this is consistent with the trajectory we have set; what could be described as a progressive policy.

JMB: Sunday, June 26th, was a very special day for you professionally and personally. Two days earlier, Governor Cuomo had signed the marriage equality law for which your newspaper fought so hard and in an editorial you titled “Because in the End, It’s Love that Counts”, you finally broke your silence and wrote, in part: “This newspaper was the target of a boycott based on our support for what we consider to be an issue of civil rights, but the end result of the matter were the calls of support from our family and activists throughout the tri-state area; many of them don’t know how to speak or read Spanish and, despite this, they wanted to subscribe to EL DIARIO to insure and protect our editorial independence.”
As a business woman, separate from your role as a journalist, what was your experience with this boycott over the editorial stand in favor of gay marriage?

RR: EL DIARIO is what we call in English a ‘single-copy’ newspaper: It’s a newspaper that is sold every day – during ninety-eight years – every day, on the newspaper stand. In other words, we do not offer a subscription rate. So for me it’s like a daily survey, whether people will buy it or won’t buy it. Therefore we didn’t feel the boycott in an economic way. Nevertheless, those who called for a boycott brought a lot of attention to EL DIARIO and, as a result, we seem to have new fans who didn’t know us before – who also thought it was something new, that it was a novelty – our support for gay marriage – which it wasn’t. And it was also an overwhelming reaction, for them to call us and say ‘We don’t read in Spanish but we want to subscribe so this boycott won’t have an impact on EL DIARIO or do any damage to EL DIARIO; so we gained – through Facebook and Twitter – we gained more.

JMB: But before you received the show of support, I imagine you as a business woman, as the leader of an organization that provides employment to many families, deep inside you must have been worried. You might have said ‘Well, we might have to rethink this issue, this stand, this editorial line…’

RR: Neither I nor Erica Gonzalez who is the Editor… we never worried about an economic impact or… we understood and always felt we were on the right side and… I never worried at any moment. What could they do? Stop buying EL DIARIO? We cannot do the work we do – in terms of our causes and the support we provide – we cannot do it on the basis of public surveys. We cannot do it on the basis of threats or the fear-mongering of losing our advertisers. We wouldn’t do it on other issues and we won’t do it for this issue. So we didn’t feel fear, we just said “OK, let’s see what happens…’. The strategy was to ignore it and, if there was an impact, to address it later. And there wasn’t.

JMB: Because we haven’t yet spoken about the person who called the boycott, but he was here a few weeks ago and this is what he said…

    NYS SENATOR RUBEN DIAZ, SR.: I want them to grant me equality…
    JMB: And what is equality; which equality…
    RD.: Equality means that EL DIARIO LA PRENSA doesn’t cover any of our activities. They don’t cover our children’s parades…
    JMB: They did cover your rally from a couple of weeks back…
    RD: Nooooo, oh, man, it was just miniscule coverage. They don’t cover the Day of the Pastor, they don’t cover religious activities, they don’t cover a thing. They only cover…JMB: Perhaps they only cover what they consider to be newsworthy…RD.: So us… the Evangelical people don’t have the right… We don’t have to spend fifty cents to buy it. That doesn’t… that doesn’t… we are in America!
    JMB: You are taking away their freedom of expression.RD: Ah! So is it an attack… for… for… for us to inhibit our right to express our position. Give me equality, and let’s say we’ll be on even keel. I’m not saying ‘Do not write about that’. What I’m saying is: Why is it that you write only about that side… and don’t write about this side.

JMB: Your reaction…

RR: OK, look. There are people in our community who not only dress like a cowboy but also act as such. They want everybody to do whatever they want them to do. They want to impose their morals. In Puerto Rico we say they preach morality in their underwear, in other words, they want to preach morality. I’ll say that if that religious sector would like to ‘protect marriage’ why don’t they attack divorce – because many of them are divorced. I got married 21 years ago, been with the same man, I’ve been loyal, and I’m in love with him and I believe in marriage. So I’m not about to deny someone else the right to marry. If they want to use the power of their religious congregations for the public well-being why won’t they attack absent parents, those who do not pay child support; why won’t they attack domestic violence. Why won’t they use their alleged power to boycott those organizations, city and state agencies, or corporations that do so much damage to our families. Why won’t they use that energy in that way. I believe that we – both in our community and our newspaper – we should celebrate love in all its forms.

JMB: With that response, it’s obvious that you feel personally affected. As we said earlier, all these few weeks have also marked a very special moment for you…

RR: Yup. Because one of the first gay weddings will take place at my home… it will be between our friends Nelson and Juan who have spent 36 years together and who will get married – at last! – they’ll have the right to do it in this state. We – my husband and I – are very happy that it will happen at our home…. and also because this year was the year in which my daughter revealed to us that she is gay – and she is 17 years of age. And for her and her generation – her friends, her cousins, our family – everyone has given her their full support. There has not been a single negative reaction. I think that’s… that’s the world we should pass on to our children so that they won’t have to suffer, for example, through what Juan and Nelson or my uncles or my relatives went through.

[COMMERCIAL]

JMB: New York became the 6th state in the country to allow these unions. One thing is certain, these marriages do not enjoy legal recognition on the national level since they are not recognized by the federal government. Why? It’s due on a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 named “The Defense of Marriage Act”. It defines marriage as the exclusive union between a man and a woman and allows the states to deny the legal recognition of homosexual unions if they wish to do so. Thanks to this law many bi-national marriages are in danger since foreigners married to U.S. citizens do not enjoy immigration benefits. President Barack Obama thinks this law is unconstitutional and has asked his team to stop defending it in the courts. On his part, the general attorney of the State of New York, Eric Schneiderman filed a petition of unconstitutionality this week which might provoke a chain-reaction leading to the law’s revocation. ROSSANA, do you think this will take place soon. In other words, New York is the 6th state and not the 1st, but perhaps it has more visibility than perhaps all the other states that allow homosexual marriage in the country. Do you think there’ll be a chain-reaction and that a great majority of the states will slowly begin to recognize homosexual marriages?

RR: Well, I think New York is decisive due to its size and, of course, because we as New Yorkers continue to believe we are the center of the world [laughs]. But New York does have a large representation of all groups and all ideologies so it does have a larger impact, particularly on what happens in Washington. So, yes, the fact that it happened in New York, the fact that we have people like Schneiderman and Cuomo who have [political] aspirations beyond New York is important as well and I believe that, yes, we will see it. And I hope so because I want to stop dealing with this issue and deal with others I believe are much more important in terms of day to day life: The economy, job creation and other issues that need to be resolved.

JMB: Because, on a deeper level, do you think it will take a long time for the community in general to get used to other family models? Because defenders of traditional marriage say that they defend the institution of marriage as that of a father, a mother and their children – but when it comes to the truth that model doesn’t…

RR …it’s that it’s been a long time since that model actually existed. I believe the figure is that more than 60% of today’s families in the United States are not like that traditional family. My children – my daughter is 17 years old, my son is 20 years old – and from the time they were little, they were always in the minority as being from a family that had a father and a mother, in other words, a nuclear family. The topic of conversation during the school lunches was divorces, it was what other children did when they went to visit their [separated] parents. That [family] structure had already changed a decade ago, in other words, more than a decade ago. Sometimes when these debates come to the surface that’s the focus and the people who talk about it do it as if this was something new. But take a look at research and the statistics: The concept of “family” already changed years ago. And what about children raised by grandparents? Extended families? We are in an era in which that nucleus already changed a long time ago.

In other words, just as Reverend Diaz’ decades-long opposition to marriage equality in New York led to ultimate failure, his late-game call to boycott El Diario also seems to have failed miserably as well. Good job, Reverend Diaz! Please keep up on riling against El Diario since it worked so well for them!

And, by the way, if you’ve read this far, I also urge you to read Rossana Rosado’s full OpEd piece on this issue by clicking here.