LGBTQ clubs, pols furious at Chelsea Piers for hosting DeSantis at upcoming conference

Ron DeSantis
FILE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Miami’s Freedom Tower, on May 9, 2022. The Special Olympics has dropped a coronavirus vaccine mandate for its games in Orlando after Florida moved to fine the organization $27.5 million for violating a state law against such rules. DeSantis, on Friday, June 3, 2022, announced that the organization had removed the requirement for its competition in the state, which is scheduled to run June 5 to June 12.
AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File

Right-wing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is slated to speak at the Jewish Leadership Conference at Chelsea Piers this Sunday, drawing harsh rebukes from some of the area’s LGBTQ plus political clubs and elected officials.

President of the Jim Owles Reform Democratic Club Allen Roskoff told PoliticsNY that DeSantis’ likely presence in Chelsea – an area that’s important to the LGBTQ plus community – this weekend is “totally outrageous” after DeSantis signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law in March.

The Don’t Say Gay law bars Florida public school teachers in Kindergarten through Third Grade from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Critics of the law have called it homophobic and transphobic and a thinly veiled attempt to limit the rights of LGBTQ plus youth.

“Chelsea Piers, if they can’t be respectful to the LGBTQ community, then perhaps they shouldn’t be welcome to be part of our community,” Roskoff said. “They need to cancel the conference right away. There’s no ‘ifs,’ ‘whats’ or ‘buts.’ If they’re going to allow this to take place, they’re insulting all who believe in civil rights and civil liberties and dignity. And to do it during gay pride adds some salt to the wound.”

Roskoff said Chelsea Piers has always had a strong relationship with the LGBTQ plus community, but that allowing DeSantis to speak at this event could quickly sour that relationship.

“I think there could be very severe consequences here if DeSantis is permitted to invade our community with his hate,” Roskoff said. “I could envision a boycott of everything Chelsea Piers.”

In a statement to PoliticsNY, the Stonewall Democrats of NYC also voiced opposition to the event.

There are clear distinctions in the treatment of LGBTQ plus people in Florida and New York, said club president Justin Sanchez. Because of the leadership by Governor Kathy Hochul, New York continues to be a sanctuary for all members of the LGBTQ+ community whereas the republican leadership in Florida has led to a community living in fear and under constant attack. It is saddening that any organization would bring people to the heart of a historic LGBTQ+ district who want to strip away at the very fabric of equity.

According to a published report, state Senator Brad Hoylman (D – Manhattan) pointed out that DeSantis’ presence is made worse by the fact that Pier Sixty, the Chelsea Piers event space hosting the conference, is only a few blocks away from the Stonewall Inn – widely considered the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.

Chelsea Piers’ press office didn’t respond to PoliticsNY’s request for comment by post time. But said in a statement to another outlet that they supported the LGBTQ plus community, while not committing to canceling the event.

According to the website for the Jewish Leadership Conference – which is run by the Tikvah Fund, a conservative Jewish organization – DeSantis will speak on “the Florida model and why it’s good for religious Americans.” The event will also include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss.

Weiss is a respected but controversial journalist in a same-sex marriage to journalist Nellie Bowles. She is a politically moderate, Israel-defending opinion writer who resigned as a New York Times opinion writer over the range of permissible views in the Times.  

Hoylman, who represents the area and is gay himself, echoed Roskoff’s sentiments that Chelsea Piers bears responsibility for giving DeSantis a platform.

“It’s outrageous that Chelsea Piers would host an anti-LGBTQ politician like DeSantis in the middle of Pride Month, in the middle of the heart of Chelsea,” Hoylman said.

Council Member Erik Bottcher (D – Manhattan) and Assembly Member Deborah Glick (D – Manhattan), who also both represent the area, joined Hoylman in criticizing Chelsea Piers for hosting the event. Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou (D – Manhattan), who represents a neighboring district and also identifies as queer, tweeted they should protest the event.

“Ew!!! no DeSantis,” Niou said. “I say we do a pride parade/protest right outside.”

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