In February of 2019 — just months before World Pride swept through the Big Apple — Ruben Diaz, Sr., then a Bronx councilmember, rocked the New York City political landscape when he said the City Council was controlled by the “homosexual community.”
Diaz’s offensive comments were met with fierce criticism across the city. Lawmakers from multiple levels of government demanded his resignation — and his refusal to back down ultimately led to swift punishment under a City Council that was led by out gay Speaker Corey Johnson: Diaz was stripped of his post as chair of the Council’s Committee on For-Hire Vehicles and the committee itself was dissolved entirely. Diaz was punished just days after his comments surfaced.
Nearly four years later, the Council is, yet again, dealing with another unapologetically anti-LGBTQ city lawmaker — but the response from Council leadership has not been the same.
In a blatant display of bigotry in June, Republican Councilmember Vickie Paladino of Queens made offensive remarks about drag story hour, casually hurled anti-LGBTQ slurs like “groomer,” and vowed to retaliate against schools in her district for funding drag story hour events. She relentlessly published offensive posts on Twitter, where she also “liked” comments calling individuals “groomers.”
“Any school in my district participating in ‘drag queen’ degeneracy risks losing their funding,” wrote Paladino, who represents the 19th District in Auburndale, Bay Terrace, Bayside, Beechhurst, College Point, Douglaston, Flushing, Little Neck, Malba, and Whitestone. “Adult drag performers have NO BUSINESS in our schools, and they will not be in my district. Period.” She went on to say progressives “may have no problem with child grooming and sexualization, but I do.”
On June 16, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the Council was “looking into what further action may be warranted.” The Council’s LGBTQIA+ Caucus had issued a statement urging the Council “to take immediate action by censuring this member and removing her from her committee assignments.”
Six months later, the requests of the LGBTQIA+ Caucus have yet to come to fruition, even as Paladino continues to keep it up on Twitter. On December 21, she “liked” more than a dozen tweets from a single Twitter user, @ConceptualJames, who unleashed a barrage of tweets referring to drag story hour as “Groomer Clown Story Hour” and describing it as “actually Marxism hiding behind dragface.”
A spokesperson for the City Council speaker confirmed on December 21 that an investigation was conducted, but offered nothing new to report about the results of the probe. Further action by the speaker, the spokesperson added, remains under consideration.
At the same time, the Council spokesperson told Gay City News that Council protocol stipulates that the Standards and Ethics Committee would be responsible for disciplinary measures taken against members.
A quick look at the leadership of the Standards and Ethics Committee raises even more questions about the delay behind disciplinary action against Paladino. Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn councilmember who has abstained from multiple LGBTQ-related votes, is the chair of the Standards and Ethics Committee. Yeger represents District 44, which encompasses Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Midwood, and Ocean Parkway.
Neither Paladino nor Yeger responded to Gay City News’ requests for comment on December 22.
Paladino’s actions have coincided with escalated attacks on LGBTQ rights nationwide — especially targeting trans folks — and many queer people have been branded as “groomers” or other baseless terms to falsely equate LGBTQ people with pedophilia. That disturbing trend was on full display on December 19 when the home and office of out gay Manhattan Councilmember Erik Bottcher was vandalized with threats and slurs labeling him as a “groomer.” The dust had barely settled on that attack two days later when Southern Brooklyn GOP Councilmember Inna Vernikov, whose district borders Yeger’s district, turned to Twitter to blurt our her opposition to drag story hour even as she condemned the attack.
“We are seeing the radicalization of reactionary forces within the Republican Party as they aggressively target LGBTQ people throughout the nation,” out trans Democratic District Leader Melissa Sklarz of Queens told Gay City News. “And now their rageful actions are here in New York.”
Justin Sanchez, the president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, told Gay City News in a phone interview that Paladino’s case must be viewed in the context of the recent attacks on the LGBTQ community. Failing to take action — especially after the attack on Bottcher — would “send a virtue signal that this rhetoric and these actions are kind of OK,” Sanchez told Gay City News.
“What we’re looking for is action and accountability,” Sanchez said. “So if you stand with the LGBTQ community, that means you should be fighting to take action when this type of rhetoric is being used.”
Sanchez said it is “concerning” that the Standards and Ethics Committee is led by Yeger given his record of abstaining from votes pertaining to the LGBTQ community’s interests. Still, Sanchez is willing to give the broader City Council the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being.
“I feel that these are some moments in which we have to trust the Council speaker’s leadership and hope that she understands her members and that she knows how to make sure action and accountability are being delivered,” Sanchez said.
Sklarz also called on the speaker to take action against Paladino.
“It is essential that allies and champions like Speaker Adrienne Adams respond forcefully to anti-LGBTQ hate as directed by Vickie Paladino earlier this year and spreading to anti-queer hatemongers traveling to the home of Erik Bottcher,” Sklarz said. “Queens County is the most diverse county in America with a huge multicultural queer and trans community. Vickie Palladino does not represent us as a people and as a culture.”