They're Here, They're Queer, They Vote

Opening shots on September 10th's gay-rights ballot

What does Jorge Diaz look like? "I'm just your average Cuban," he jokes over the phone before a lunch meeting with Kulchur. Well, not exactly.

True, Diaz arrives at Coconut Grove's Monty's restaurant dressed in a crisp white guayabera and slacks. And despite apologizing for what he calls a sweaty countenance -- there's no air conditioning in his truck, he sighs -- not a dashing hair looks out of place on his 34-year-old head. La moda cubana indeed.

But Jorge Diaz is hardly an anonymous member of el exilio, as the stream of well-wishers passing his table make clear: There are several of Monty's waiters; an attorney playfully asking about a job with the developer, Centres, Inc., who employs Diaz; and Robin, who drops by to firm up some yard-sale details and dinner plans. Robin?

As the fight over Miami's gay-rights amendment heats up, Jorge Diaz steps up
Steve Satterwhite
As the fight over Miami's gay-rights amendment heats up, Jorge Diaz steps up

"The First Lady," Diaz offers cheerfully when Kulchur fails to recognize the wife of Miami mayor Manny Diaz -- Jorge's older brother (and Monty's co-owner).

"During the last four months of Manny's campaign, I was working for him full time," he explains. "But I was behind the scenes, which is why you probably never saw me before, or why most people don't even know Manny has a brother."

That's about to change. With a referendum on Miami-Dade's gay-rights amendment set for the September 10 ballot, Jorge Diaz intends to take a highly visible role in making sure any repeal effort fails. If his surname brings added attention to this looming electoral fight, all the better. "During the [mayoral] campaign I wish Manny had been a bit more vocal about the fact that he does have a gay brother," he muses. "But that goes to the heart of the issue -- it's not personal. Manny doesn't agree with any kind of discrimination.... Today it's the gays, tomorrow it could be the Jews or the Haitians. Once you open the door to intolerance, where do you draw the line?"

After several months of tending to his own career, helping to care for his ailing partner (now recovered), and "recharging my batteries," Diaz says he felt ready to approach his friends at SAVE Dade, the chief group defending the gay-rights amendment. "I said, 'I'm back, let's get the ball rolling. What can I do?'"

Diaz takes it as a given that the personal is political, especially when it comes to his brother. "I always knew he'd be a public official," he says warmly, recalling when a teenaged Manny drafted him for street canvassing. "My first campaign working alongside my brother was when I was six years old!" he laughs. "I've been doing this for awhile."

None of that camaraderie changed when Jorge turned seventeen and broke off an engagement to his high school girlfriend. "I realized I had to go one way or another," he recalls of the period before he left Miami to attend Florida State University, "and my preference was men. Manny was the first person I told."

Initially there were the stereotypical machista issues. "I had some tough times. My father was a military man, very strict and disciplinarian, but a good man. I felt that I was disappointing him, the typical things that people who are coming out of the closet feel." Now, however, "They all know and they all accept it, I think because I never pretended to be someone else."

Still, don't look for Diaz at the White Party with his shirt off. An unabashed traditionalist, he and his boyfriend, a computer specialist, exchanged vows two years ago on the back lawn of their suburban home before 130 gathered friends and family. Although gay marriage is barred in Florida, Diaz notes, "it was a union ceremony, what I call a wedding."

The couple was even preparing to adopt a pair of twins from a Tennessee mother who had developed a substance-abuse problem. To that end, Diaz's partner was about to move to Tennessee for six months and establish residency. "It was quite a lot of work, but the state of Florida makes it impossible for me to do it here," he says, referring to Florida's ban on gay adoptions.

With a hint of anger edging into his voice for the first time, he continues: "With the news of the missing foster children who aren't being taken care of properly, it just really brings it home for me. To watch and know there are other gay couples who want to adopt, it just hurts. To exclude anyone from trying to give children a loving home and a better future -- how can that be wrong?

"I'm in a stable relationship, and I've got family and friends who love and support us. We both do fairly well economically. We're in a position to give back and help a child realize their goals, like I've had the opportunity to do, thanks to my parents. To be dismissed..." Diaz pauses, and then with uncharacteristic bluntness, exhales: "It sucks."

The opening salvo of the gay-rights fight came on May 30 with the debut press conference from the No to Discrimination Committee, a new SAVE Dade-run group. Before a bevy of microphones and cameras, Miami mayor Manny Diaz, Miami-Dade mayor Alex Penelas, and Miami Beach mayor David Dermer were joined by local activists, all pledging their support of the gay-rights amendment come September 10, and announcing similar commitments from high-profilers such as the Cuban American National Foundation's Joe Garcia and University of Miami president Donna Shalala. Adding some starpower was the Latina answer to Oprah, talk-show host Cristina Saralegui, who has since said she hopes to attract fellow celebs such as singer Celia Cruz to the cause.

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