Portland school board member apologizes for past use of homophobic slur

·3 min read

Sep. 23—A Portland school board member who is running for an at-large seat on the City Council is apologizing for a 12-year-old social media post in which he used a homophobic slur.

Roberto Rodriguez, 42, confirmed to the Press Herald that a 2009 Facebook post that resurfaced on social media last week was authentic. He said it is "very reasonable" that people in the community want an explanation.

"Those comments do not represent my values today and who I am today as a public official," Rodriguez said. "I 100 percent apologize for having contributed to a culture of hate and that I did so through ignorance. I'm also proud that I am now in a position where I can reflect on it and act in a way that contradicts it and moves us on a path to heal as a community from such hate and derogatory words."

The derogatory word was used in a Facebook thread about college football. After a friend used a homophobic slur in a comment, Rodriguez responded in kind, which promoted another friend to repeat the slur.

Rodriguez has since deleted the post, but screenshots of the thread have been shared on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook.

Rodriguez said it was not unusual for people around him to use slurs while he was growing up. He experienced hardships as a young adult, he said, and didn't appreciate the effect of his words. He said his first daughter was born in 1997, less than a month after he graduated from high school and while he was in basic training for the military, and he struggled to make ends meet as a young man.

He said it wasn't until he entered his second marriage in 2008 and had his second daughter that his views began to change and that he realized some of his previous habits and vocabulary were causing harm to others.

"I have thought a lot about where I was in my life in 2009 and where I am today," he said. "I have a daughter raised in hardship and one raised in privilege. As I reflect on that post and that language, I see how much of that life of hardship blinds you to systemic oppression and how using language like that contributes to oppression. Now that I'm living a life of 'privilege,' I see that very clearly."

While on the school board, Rodriguez has been an advocate for policies and budgets that help address racial and economic inequities.

School Board Chair Emily Figdor, who publicly announced she is gay this year, offered her support for Rodriguez.

"In my time on the school board, I have worked most closely with Roberto," Figdor said. "I know his heart, and it is so good. People learn and grow, as he has over more than a decade. Roberto is deeply committed to making our city better for those of us who are marginalized by society. I truly admire Roberto and strongly support his candidacy for City Council."

Since the old posts began resurfacing last week, Rodriguez said he has been reaching out to individuals and community groups to apologize and make amends.

"I have been reaching out to people and having conversations," he said. "I have a long list of people who I think I owe a one-on-one discussion."

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