More than a half-dozen Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations criticized a New York State Senate candidate Wednesday for reportedly saying he would fight to ban pictures of same-sex couples from school textbooks.
S.J. Jung, a Korean American challenging Queens incumbent Toby Ann Stavisky in a September Democratic primary, came under fire following a report this week in the New York Daily News. The report said Jung made the comments at a March meeting before a group whose members were mainly from Korean churches.
The Daily News article, which published Monday, quotes from a report in Korean that was translated into English. At the meeting, Jung also reportedly discussed other bills troublesome to the religious community and asked for prayers, "so I can get elected to the New York State Senate to stop this from happening," according to the newspaper.
The nine AAPI groups — including the Dari Project, an LGBTQ Korean-American organization in New York City, and the National Queer Asian American and Pacific Islander Alliance — lashed out at Jung and called the remarks homophobic.
"As LGBTQ Korean Americans, their family members and their allies, we are deeply disappointed to see a man who has done such important work in Korean American communities express such bigotry around LGBTQ communities, marriage and public education," the groups said in a statement.
Jung, in an email to NBC News, said members of the LGBTQ community are his friends and neighbors and said he would "protect them from hate crimes and uphold their human and legal rights" as state senator.
"At the event on Mar. 28, I talked about the challenges faced by groups who are not in agreement with the Supreme Court's ruling on the same sex marriage," Jung told NBC News. "I was referring to a general trend in the nation, not a specific legislation pending the NY State Senate."
Mark Ro Beyersdorf, co-coordinator of the Dari Project, told NBC News in an email that Jung's remarks were "disgraceful" and said they harm young Korean Americans struggling to come out.
"The harsh reality is that there are large segments of the Korean American community that are deeply homophobic and transphobic," he said. "While there are some Korean American leaders and organizations who are vocal champions of LGBTQ people — and I am deeply grateful to them — there are many more who are privately supportive of LGBTQ people but unwilling to take public stances and help shift attitudes about LGBTQ people in our community."
In his statement, Jung did not deny that he made the remarks. He did say he does not support same-sex marriage and believes "in the bible's teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman."
"I believe this is a matter of distinction, not a matter of discrimination," he said.
Stavisky, who was elected to the State Senate in 1999, voted to legalize gay marriage in 2011, according to Times Union. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Marriage Equality Act into law in June of that year.
The AAPI groups have asked Jung for a meeting and for him to reevaluate his positions. It wasn't immediately clear if Jung would attend such a meeting.