Fernando Cabrera’s Enduring Brand of Religious Homophobia

Near and far, the Bronx lawmaker has used Christianity to justify anti-gay views

EMIL COHEN/ NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL

City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera speaks during a Commitee on Governmental Operations hearing.

BY MATT TRACY

Community News Group

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Bronx City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera has remained steadfast in his bizarre insistence that government suffers from not having more religious folks in it, and in that spirit he has managed to drive a unique brand of religious homophobia.

Now in the midst of his third and final consecutive term on the City Council, Cabrera is more than four years removed from a trip during which he was caught praising the homophobic government of Uganda. He is known for his influential role as the founder and pastor at New Life Outreach International Church in the Bronx, which boasts a “Statement of Faith” declaring that marriage is defined as “the exclusive covenantal union of one man and one woman,” and that it is “imperative” that all employees of the church and its volunteers adhere to those rules.

It was 2014 when the councilmember, a conservative Democrat, traveled to Uganda shortly after that nation passed a measure that in its earliest incarnation was dubbed the “Kill the Gays” measure, but later dropped the death penalty, substituting instead long prison sentences for same-sex sexual conduct. He said in a YouTube video that “godly people are in government” there and praised the nation for standing against what he falsely described as threats by the United States to pull funding if Uganda’s anti-gay actions continued.

“Even when the United States of America has put pressure, has told Uganda, ‘We are not going to fund you anymore unless you allow gay marriage,’ they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation,” Cabrera said in the video.

The US government exerted no such pressure on Uganda.

Cabrera views on religion and government are of a piece with his ties to Pastor Joseph Mattera, who believes Christians should reproduce faster so that they can “have more influence… [and]… more votes than anybody else and we would have the most power on earth.” Cabrera served on Mattera’s regional Apostolic Leadership team and taught at his Leadership Institute regarding a “Kingdom Revolution” to push a “biblical worldview,” according to Political Research Associates.

Mattera’s website is laced with articles floating laughable conspiracy theories, like one saying, “An Earthquake and a Hurricane within 30 Days of Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage —What’s Next?” In another article, Mattera says “homosexual­ity has been normalized by art, media, and entertainment yet the rank and file of America still reject it… If we are going to transform culture we need to engage and shift the influencers toward biblical values at the highest levels in every major sphere of society.”

Cabrera, whose district encompasses Morris Heights, University Heights, Fordham, and Kingsbridge, has also supported and attended rallies with anti-gay groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right anti-gay fringe legal group that has represented Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips in legal battles over his refusal to serve gay and transgender customers. ADF has served as a key legal defender of bans on same-sex marriage and dedicates an entire section of its website to explaining why marriage equality causes “needless emotional and material hardship” and leads to a “redesigned society.” ADF has also repeatedly gone to court to fight the rights of transgender school students.

In another YouTube video from 2014, Cabrera directly praised ADF and said it is important for religious folks to run for political office.

“We need to have a new generation of young people that are going to raise the banner for family values, for those things that have made our nation great and the values Alliance Defending Freedom has been fighting for,” he said.

Cabrera also made a speech that same year at an event sponsored by ADF and led by Christian Union, which “develops Christian leaders to transform culture for God’s glory.” During his speech, he railed against attacks on religious freedom and, as usual, encouraged religious folks to seek political office.

Also that year, an article in Gotham Gazette noted that Cabrera told Bronx political figures that constituents asked him to run against Gustavo Rivera for State Senate in District 33 because they were unhappy with Rivera’s support of same-sex marriage. Cabrera wound up running for Rivera’s seat twice — in 2014 and 2016 — but was soundly defeated both times in the Democratic primary.

Cabrera, 54, has received financial backing from a range of city councilmembers and other elected officials who have expressed support for LGBTQ rights, including Councilmembers Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan and Andrew Cohen of the Bronx, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Attorney General Letitia James.

Levine made a $2,750 donation on March 11, 2017, while Williams contributed $1,375 on the same day. Rodriguez gave $2,000 to Cabrera on August 28, 2017, and James handed over $150 in 2013. Cohen donated $175 to Cabrera on July 30, 2017.

Under the leadership of out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Cabrera serves on seven committees and most prominently is the chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations.

A review of Cabrera’s voting record on important issues facing the LGBTQ community uncovers of a more mixed bag than one might expect from his rhetoric. He voted against legislation in 2014 to allow people to change the gender designation on their birth certificates, and then he voted against creating an advisory board to implement that law. He was absent from a vote on a 2016 bill requiring the Department of Education to report on whether schools have gay-straight alliances and the number of teachers who have received training on LGBTQ issues.

In February, Cabrera refused to join his colleagues in punishing Bronx Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., for his recent anti-gay comments. Though on Twitter on February 10 he called on the elder Diaz to “retract his statement and apologize to the LGBTQ community, the New York City Council and all New Yorkers” saying his “words tear at the very fabric of who we are as a city,” his actions didn’t end up matching his tweet. The City Council voted overwhelmingly to dissolve Diaz’s Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, but Cabrera abstained.

On the other hand, the councilmember voted for the city’s 2017 ban on conversion therapy as well as a law enacted the same year that requires the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to outline a plan for serving the behavioral health needs of LGBTQ people.

It is not immediately clear whether Cabrera, who is term-limited from running for re-election, plans to pursue political office outside of the City Council following the conclusion of his term. He will nevertheless remain in his current seat until January of 2022 — and there are no signs that he plans to ditch his role leading a church that has etched homophobic policies into its “Statement of Faith.”

The councilmember did not respond to requests for comment on this story or his record of homophobia.

Updated 1:38 pm, March 30, 2019

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