Chelsea Piers faced a massive backlash for featuring Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at a Tivkah Fund conference on Sunday, June 12. Twitter users called it “despicable” and “unconscionable,” citing the hypocrisy of Chelsea Piers supporting Pride month, but hosting an advocate for the “Don’t Say Gay” bill at the same time. The venue released a statement disclaiming any allegiances to DeSantis’ “actions in office” and pledging to donate to LGBTQ+ organizations, but stood by its decision to have DeSantis at the Jewish Leadership Conference.
On the day of the event, protesters rallied outside of Chelsea Piers holding “Say Gay” posters and LGBTQ+ flags. The Ali Forney Center released its own statement declaring its 13th annual Oasis benefit celebrating Pride would not be held at Pier 60, as it was for the previous nine years. It would now take place at the Tribeca Rooftop on the original date, June 19.
“What they should have done is donated and canceled the event. Donated to apologize, and canceled the event,” says Alex Roque, the president and executive director of the Ali Forney Center. “It’s clear that their values align with the conservative groups that brought Ron DeSantis in, and it’s clear their values align with Ron DeSantis.”
The AFC launched in 2002 as a program dedicated to housing and caring for LGBTQ+ youth. It provides aid for those who have been kicked out of their homes due to homophobia and transphobia, taking a medical and mental health-based approach to help young people work through that trauma. This includes housing programs, career and educational services, and life skills aid to support folks in living on their own.
“We do what a family should do for a young person,” says Roque. “Help them, provide the support structure, the safety, the care, so that they can design a life for themselves.”
In a statement posted by the AFC, Roque explained the decision to terminate the contract for Oasis at Chelsea Piers/Pier 60. “I have the obligation to ensure that the entities we do business with share values that do not endanger, harm or otherwise marginalize our community or anyone for that matter,” he wrote on behalf of the organization.
The Oasis summer cocktail party was launched in an effort to raise money for the LGBTQ+ cause at an accessible, low-level ticket price. The proceeds from the event go towards the AFC’s programs, many of which are underfunded.
“We’re Being Attacked”
According to Roque, the Chelsea Piers controversy struck a delicate nerve, as the goals of the AFC and Oasis have evolved due to initiatives like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“There’s an awakening in our community, that we’re being attacked,” he explains. “This organization supports young people who are the victims of the attack.” This year, Roque says, Oasis will be more than a fundraiser — it will stand for the rights of those who don’t have their families to advocate for them against the “hateful, harmful, fear-mongering, hate-mongering demagogue of ‘Don’t Say Gay.’”
One thing Roque and his colleagues from other LGBTQ+ organizations hope to point out: boycotting events and people should not be the sole focus here. The fight against legislators like DeSantis and “Don’t Say Gay” is not new, he notes, though the uproar attention may be. He remembers getting a phone call over 10 years ago, from a group of mothers in a Minnesota school district with a “Don’t Say Gay” policy in place under former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann — mothers grieving children who took their lives due to bullying.
“This is much bigger than taking a stance against this person, or canceling this person, or not supporting freedom of speech,” says Roque. “We’re actually fighting someone who is purposely and willfully silencing freedom of speech.”