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Queers, like other minorities, are increasingly a commodity.

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Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, "A Mayor For All New Yorkers," at the Bronx Pride Parade, July 21, 2001. Sally Sasso

Candidate Ferrer, Bronx
Pride, and Mega Bigotry

by Kelly Cogswell

JULY 31, 2001. If you didn't see the front banner of the July 21st parade announcing it was Bronx Pride, you would have thought it was a celebration of Fernando Ferrer and the Bronx Democratic machine.

The oversized Ferrer-for-mayor truck, with its blaring loudspeakers, dwarfed every other contingent, loudly demanding votes for him, and for party hopefuls Adolfo Carrión, Edwin Ortiz, María Báez, and Joel Rivera, who each had, in addition, their own groups, banners, and bullhorns.

There were lots of Puerto Rican flags, but very few gay rainbows. Anglo Democratic politicians Alan Hevesi, Norm Siegel, Kathryn Freed, were there too, grinning and waving at the depopulated sidewalks, a stone's throw away from Yankee Stadium.

Until the lively, post-parade fair at Franz Sigel Park, gay groups were no more than dots among the politicos. Many had skipped the parade, to protest the organizers' choice of grand marshals, which strangely included Howard Stern-wannabee radio DJs Luis Jiménez and Moonshadow. Their "comedy" skits in the top-rated, "El Vacilón de la Mañana" (Morning Party), on Spanish-language WSKQ-FM, regularly insinuate that gay men are repulsive sex-maniacs, black Latinos and African Americans are lazy whiners, and lesbians only exist to whorishly satisfy heterosexual desire.

How these divas of Latino hate-with-a-smirk radio came to be featured players in a Gay Pride parade, reveals how queers, like other minorities, are increasingly a commodity. Parades are for politicians and advertisers. Political groups are not for organizing, but for endorsements. Ferrer's mayoral rival, Mark Green, reputedly packed the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats with campaign workers, including his straight campaign manager and his wife, trying to get the nod. Bigots at Pride is par for the course.

The Invitation
The Bronx Pride parade was in trouble long before the furor over the "vaciloneros" made the front page of El Diario/La Prensa, the city's oldest Spanish-language newspaper. According to Chairperson Marisol Santiago, the parade's executive board was plagued with internal squabbles, and it was always hard to round-up volunteers, partly, she speculated, because gay people in the Bronx seem to prefer the anonymity of activities in Manhattan. Each year the parade requires help from other city Pride organizations, and from Fernando Ferrer.

His gay liaison, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, was quick to point out, "Bronx Pride would not even be happening today if it wasn't for the Borough President. The organizers didn't want to do it this year. The Borough President said 'Absolutely not. I want a Pride. I want a parade this year as we've had for the last four years. And to march down the Grand Concourse. Not some side street.'" Ferrer provided office space, resources, help from his gay liaison, Schlesinger, and a one-to-one matching grant of up to $10,000.

Santiago herself appears to have been drafted. Beyond her four-year involvement with the Bronx Pride board, she has few visible roots in lgbt activism or politics, little sense of what activists are doing to fight homophobia and work towards civil rights in the Bronx and elsewhere. She told reporters she believed the parade was for celebrating "unity, love, and friendship...we need to unite more, not only among the gay community, but with other communities." In fact, her main connection with this year's parade seems to be not through the lgbt communities the parade is supposed to serve and represent, but through Ferrer.

When asked if she had worked for Ferrer's campaign, Santiago seemed to be speaking for the entire Bronx Pride Board when she answered, "Yes, we have."

Stonewalling
But the gaping chasm between the lesbian and gay community, and Santiago and her four-member board, not to mention Ferrer, was revealed not just by their stunning invitation to the Vacilón DJs, but by their refusal to withdraw it, in spite of almost a week of private advice, petitions, cajoling, and finally, public protests, from an impressive array of queer activist groups and individuals.

Both Santiago and Ferrer were sent transcripts of the DJs homophobic skits, as well as a private letter and, finally, a statement (which this writer signed) pointing out that the community has a history of organizing against the show, and that "Inviting [the two DJs] to march at the Bronx Pride Parade, as grand marshals, no less, legitimizes and validates their homophobic, racist, and misogynist programming... From now on, when they are called homophobic, they will be able to show their 'Bronx Pride Card.'"

The statement was signed by dozens of individuals and local and national groups including the Audre Lorde Project, African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change, Brazilian Rainbow Group, Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA), Puerto Rican Initiative to Develop Empowerment (PRIDE), Latino Commission on AIDS, Latitud 0°: Movimiento Lésbico- Gay Bisexual Transgénero Ecuatoriano, The National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization (LLEGÓ), and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

Nevertheless, when Santiago and two other Bronx Pride organizers appeared on the controversial Vacilón radio show the day before the parade, they continued to court the DJs. Santiago repeatedly insisted that they had made "a very good decision" by inviting the DJs. Dripping sarcasm, she wished, "the leaders who attack us now had been there earlier to offer us their wisdom and support."

Santiago and her companions then sat in silence as DJ Luis Jiménez compared his gay critics to people he knew who falsely claimed they were fired from jobs due to racial discrimination when they were, he said, just plain lazy. ("Unless lazy becomes a race!") They also said nothing when Jiménez ripped the protesters' spokesperson, Andres Duque, calling him "a coward" for not appearing on the program. Duque, a respected organizer, is coordinator of the Latino queer activist network "Mano a Mano."

Ferrer Washes His Hands
Neither did Ferrer take responsibility for earlier writing a "letter of support," to the DJs saying that "I have already accepted the invitation to be marshal again, and would be pleased to share this honor with you."

His policy director, Scot Gleason, insisted Ferrer, "defers to Bronx pride organizers. He believes communities should empower themselves. The DJs have said that they are not homophobic, and Mr. Ferrer is pleased that Bronx Pride organizers have selected him as a grand marshal." Ferrer was also quoted by El Diario/La Prensa as smugly asking, "If they [the DJs] want to define themselves as friends of the lesbian and gay community, why shouldn't they?"

When asked at the parade why he continued to support inviting the DJs over the protests of dozens of Latino lgbt groups, he again hid behind Bronx Pride. When pressed on it, he walked away. "I'm not aware of their programming," he insisted after the parade.

Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Ferrer's gay liaison, subsequently dismissed the protests as last-minute criticisms by outsiders of a well-intentioned effort, and suggested that a certain elitism was at play. "The Bronx community has a lot of difficulty doing organizing because the community is widespread. It's not affluent, and powerful," she said pointedly.

A Pretty Good Record
Ferrer's nonchalant pooh-poohing of queer Latino activists would be easier to explain if he were a rabid homophobe. As it is, he has a pretty good track record with the lgbt community. When he first came out in support of gay rights, in the 80's, he actually had to have his house protected. He supports same-sex marriage, transgender civil rights, and a needle-exchange program for AIDS prevention.

He has boycotted the St. Patrick's Day Parade because it excludes the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO), and has promised to continue supporting ILGO as mayor if a compromise cannot be worked out.

The only explanation is that, when push came to shove, ignoring gay activists already pilloried on El Vacilón de la Mañana by Bronx Pride organizers must have seemed a fair trade-off for the photo ops of candidate Ferrer marching arm in arm with the wildly popular DJs (who, in the end, did not show up at the parade).

After all, what damage can disgruntled Latino gay activists do? The parade controversy hit the front page of El Diario/La Prensa, but that rarely translates into even a paragraph buried in the back of The New York Times. And any Latino gay activist who aired Ferrer's dirty laundry in the Anglo media could arguably be flirting with the label "traitor to the race" or, at the very least, destroyer of the Bronx parade.

The Stakes
Ferrer was more at risk if he gave in to the protesters. Having played a key role in inviting the popular DJs, who probably reach more Latino voters in one day than all Democratic mayoral candidates put together in a month, he could scarcely afford to be mixed up in an effort to un-invite them.

The $4500 contribution (the maximum allowed by law in New York City) to the Ferrer campaign from Raúl Alarcón, CEO of the Spanish Broadcasting System, the station's parent company, and the $500 contributed by SBS Vice-President and WSKQ-FM general manager, Carey Davis, are inconsequential next to the possibility of two offended DJs broadcasting humiliating riffs against candidate Ferrer into every corner of Hispanic New York City, accusing him of backing down because a bunch of maricones told him to.

For Is Spanish Radio Training Bigots?

Related links:

For Phillip L. Velez' "The Struggle for LGBT Visibility in the Bronx," LGNY LATINO, July 20-Aug. 2, 2001.

For the New York Blade interview Ferrer speaks on gay-related issues plus Ferrer's lgbt campaign promises from the Ferrer 2001 website

For a look at how Mark Green Staffers Join Gay Group In Advance Of Endorsement Vote.

For how Alan Hevesi got in on the GLID packing.

For The Official NYC website. What is a borough anyway?

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

For Complete Coverage New York City

Gay Mundo
gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Taiwan to Puerto Rico and more.

New York City
News, opinion, and weekly headline review of New York City.

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