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Democrats condemn Josh Cuomo for ‘hateful and harmful rhetoric’ against LGBTQ community

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SCHENECTADY — Schenectady County Conservative Legislator Josh Cuomo is facing criticism from his Democratic counterparts for not supporting a special resolution honoring the LGBTQ community and for posting “increasingly homophobic” comments on social media, including a video where he called a pride flag “satanic.”

The move comes just days after Cuomo, a District 4 representative, cast the lone vote against a ceremonial resolution declaring June Pride Month. The resolution makes reference to past hardships and continuing discrimination faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community and states that the governing body stands in solidarity with the community.

“Today and every day, this body stands with every LGBTQ+ Schenectadian in their ongoing struggle against intolerance, discrimination, and injustice, and honor the resilience of LGBTQ+ people, who are fighting to live authentically and freely,” the resolution reads. “We reaffirm our belief that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights, and recommit to delivering protections, safety, and equality to LGBTQ+ families so that everyone can realize their fullest promise and potential.”

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The resolution comes just weeks before the start of Pride Month, a month-long celebration commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, which is considered a tipping point for the gay rights movement. The month is dedicated to celebrate and recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride.

Cuomo’s “no” vote caught members of the Legislature’s Democratic majority by surprise, including Anthony Jasenski, also of District 4, who was swift to condemn Cuomo for refusing to support the resolution.

“I just find it curious that a member of this Legislature would be against justice, inclusion, equality, acceptance, human rights, promise and potential by voting no on something that is very important to many people in our community,” Jasenski said.

Eric Hess, the only Republican in the Legislature, voted in support of the resolution. Hess did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

The Legislature is made up of 11 Democrats, three Conservatives and one Republican.

The Schenectady County Democratic Committee issued a news release condemning Cuomo for not voting in favor of the resolution and calling out “increasingly homophobic” social media posts the lawmaker has made in recent weeks, including criticism of an upcoming gay pride event hosted by a local Methodist church and other comments he posted to his public Facebook page.

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“No one was really concerned with the LGB movement until they started coming after children and corrupting their young, impressionable minds,” Cuomo wrote in one recent comment. “Just let them be children, and they can make that decision for themselves when they are adults or ready to do so. You can be gay and believe in God, but you can not live a life of sin and be proud of it, and be a child of God or saved. This goes for any sin.”

“As we approach June, Pride Month, Josh Cuomo’s hateful homophobic comments are that much more harmful and hurtful to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, +, loved ones,” Frank Salmone, chair of the Schenectady County Democratic Party, said in a statement. “The LGBTQ+ community deserves the dignity, love and respect all human beings deserve — and the rights guaranteed by the laws of this state.”

Salamone called on Schenectady Republican leaders to “join with all decent people in disavowing the hateful rhetoric exposed by Cuomo.”

“All too often we see how hate speech, and the failure to denounce it, increases the risk of violence to those subjected to such speech,” he said. “We cannot allow that to continue.”

Cuomo, in an interview Friday, said he stands by his decision not to vote in favor of the resolution and his comments on social media, saying he is a devout Christian who doesn’t hate anyone.

“I’m a devout Christian and I’ve never tried to hide that. I actually ran on it when I ran [for the Legislature] and people liked it and seemed to support it, and I’m not going to go back on my values just because it’s what the world is doing right now,” he said. “I don’t hate any gays. Some of my best friends are gay. Some of my closest family members are in the community, so there’s no hate or animosity there, it’s just not something I agree with religiously, and I feel like I need to stand on my values.”

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In a follow-up statement, Cuomo, who is halfway through his first four-year term in the Legislature, again doubled-down on his position, dismissing any claims that his actions were based on homophobia as “ludicrous” and lacking “common sense or any truth.”

“All Christians should love and care for all individuals, but remain in opposition to a movement that looks to invade women’s spaces, normalize transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, students being forced to learn about sexual orientation or gender identity in grade school and the promotion of drag shows,” Cuomo said in a statement.

He added: “The idea that the county Democrat Party would attempt to bully me for representing the views of a significant portion of my constituency and Christian beliefs, which I agree with, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of exactly what it means to serve the people. I would also challenge them to find any example of me expressing hateful rhetoric. My constituency did not vote me into office to use their tax dollars to promote or force an agenda celebrating and commemorating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lifestyles; they voted me into office to be a steward of their tax dollars.”

But Cuomo’s remarks have drawn fierce criticism from his colleagues in the Legislature, including the governing body’s chair, Gary Hughes.

“It is entirely unacceptable that an individual, elected to represent the public, would hold such animosity towards a segment of the population based on who they are, without regard to anything they’ve done,” Hughes said. “While Mr. Cuomo has a right to speak his mind, we have an obligation to condemn such harmful and hurtful comments — and his fellow Republicans also have an obligation to disavow his rhetoric.”

Darlene Harris, chair of the Schenectady County Republican Committee, said Cuomo has a right to vote “yes or not on any resolutions before him,” but noted that his vote is reflective of his “life teachings” and not necessarily reflective of the Republican Party. 

Harris noted that Hess voted in favor of the Pride Month resolution and many members of the Republican Party locally have family and friends who are members of the LGBTQ community. She noted that county Republicans have also backed candidates of the LGBTQ community as recently as last year.

“Many members of our party have friends, family and loved ones in the LGBTQ community,” Harris said. “We have enrolled voters in the LGBTQ community. We have run candidates from the LGBTQ community as recent as the 2023 local election. We embrace the diversity of all people, in actions and in thought.”

Cuomo’s remarks on social media include a recent video that he recorded at Nerdy by Nature, a store located in Crossgates Mall in Guilderland selling artwork and statues of Baphomet. The establishment, which has since relocated to Troy, describes itself as the “Capital Region’s only inclusive metaphysical and curiosities shop, supplying tools to assist you in being your authentic self.”

“They really have a satanic store in Crossgates,” Cuomo says in the video. “They have a gay pride flag, which is obviously satanic, against Christianity.”

At one point, staff members ask Cuomo, who said he was “exposing” the shop, to stop recording and call security to have him escorted out.

“Tell them I’m a county legislator as well,” Cuomo told the staff. “I’m an elected official, so you can tell them that as well.”

Cuomo on Friday said he regrets invoking his elected office during the exchange, adding he did it in the “heat of the moment.”

“It was just the heat of the moment. I don’t really know. I probably shouldn’t have said it in hindsight. It’s probably the one thing in that video that I do regret saying,” Cuomo said.

In a statement, organizers from Schenectady Pride commended the Legislature for “standing up for inclusion and respect for all individuals” and thanked the Democratic Party for their support and congratulated officials “who crossed party lines to uphold civil rights for all constituents.”

“Hurtful and divisive language has no place in our county,” the organization said. “Instead, we should focus on building bridges of understanding and compassion. Pride Month is a time to celebrate our progress and acknowledge the work that still lies ahead in ensuring equality for everyone. Schenectady Pride remains dedicated to creating a community where everyone feels safe, valued and respected. We call on all community leaders to join us in promoting love, acceptance and unity. Together, we can continue to make Schenectady County a beacon of progress and inclusivity.”’

Correction 5/18/24 11 a.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Legislator Josh Cuomo’s party affiliation. He is affiliated as a Conservative, not as a Republican.

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