BY MATT TRACY
Community News Group
Out gay congressional candidate Ritchie Torres is making it clear he needs the support of the wider LGBTQ community in order to defeat homophobic City Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr. — and so far, he’s showing he can meet that hurdle.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, a Washington-based group that helps elect out candidates at all levels of government across the nation, endorsed Torres on July 29.
The Victory Fund is now the second LGBTQ-based organization to throw its support behind the Bronx councilmember in the race for the 15th Congressional District, after he received the backing of the Equality PAC — the political arm of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus — last month before he officially kicked off his bid for Congress. Torres has also received support and financial backing from out gay Rhode Island Congressmember David Cicilline and his PAC.
In a written statement, Victory Fund’s out lesbian president and CEO Annise Parker said Torres would provide a “crucial voice to a Congress where people of color and LGBTQ people are severely underrepresented.”
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“The South Bronx deserves a leader who uses their position to champion the urban poor and other underserved communities, not a man who uses his platform to denigrate his own constituents because they are women or LGBTQ,” Parker said, taking a clear shot at Diaz’s long history of anti-abortion stances and homophobia, which was on full display early this year when he said the City Council “is controlled by the homosexual community.”
Torres told Gay City News in a phone interview that he is “honored” to have the Victory Fund’s support, which he said represents “a game-changing endorsement that demonstrates that the contest is a priority for the national LGBTQ movement.”
“The stakes are unusually high,” Torres explained. “The specter of Ruben Diaz, Sr., is an urgent recognition that we as a community cannot afford to have the most anti-choice, anti-LGBT Democrat represent the most Democratic district.”
Torres, who already became the first out gay elected official in the Bronx and the youngest in the City Council when originally elected in 2013, would be the first out gay black and first out gay Latinx congressmember if he wins the race to replace departing Representative José Serrano next year. He is far ahead in fundraising, having raked in more than $522,000 through his first filing compared to Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake’s $120,941 and Diaz’s $80,766. But Diaz has spent decades establishing his name in the Bronx — and Torres understands that he needs more than just money to overcome that.
“I need the support of the LGBT community,” Torres said. “I need a real mobilization of the LGBT community to overcome the entrenched power of Ruben Diaz. Sr., in the Bronx.”
Moving forward, Torres said he plans to continue the process of contacting donors, rallying labor endorsements, and building a base of volunteers as he navigates the course of his campaign. But even with a financial advantage that has him “cautiously optimistic,” he isn’t taking anything for granted. Torres acknowledged that he has been an underdog for most of his life and doesn’t see that changing in the race for Capitol Hill.
“I was born as an underdog, I’ve lived as an underdog, and I think I’m an underdog in this race,” Torres said. “I’m going to campaign as if I’m 50 points behind.”