Inside a Chelsea public library on Saturday, Dec. 17, children read “regular kids’ books,” sitting on the floor together, according to Council Member Erik Bottcher, who represents the neighborhood along with the West Village and Hell’s Kitchen. “We took a break for coloring, in coloring books,” he told a reporter that day. “It was totally benign and really lovely.”
Outside, a different story was unfolding. People protesting the “Drag Story Hour” event hurled criticism and homophobic insults at the council member, who is gay. “Shame on you for supporting groomers,” one person yelled. Others shouted their discontent as NYPD officers managed the scene.
“Today I witnessed pure hatred and bigotry,” Bottcher tweeted that afternoon. The clash seemed to set in motion a slew of further backlash, reaching the council member’s doorstep. “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he told Chelsea News, saying that for him and others in the district, the altercations have only “strengthened our resolve” to support causes like “Drag Story Hour” and nurture the LGBTQ+ community.
Closer To Home
On Monday, Dec. 19, around 3 p.m., multiple people entered Bottcher’s district office building in Chelsea and vandalized the walls inside, according to an NYPD spokesperson. Photos that Bottcher shared on Twitter that evening show a profane variation of the council member’s last name scrawled across the hallway.
Bottcher attributed the incident to a group called “Gays Against Groomers.” “We will not be cowed,” he wrote. “We will not be silenced. We will continue to stand up against hate.” There were no arrests, according to an NYPD spokesperson.
But only two hours later, the vandalism hit closer to home. Outside of Bottcher’s Chelsea apartment building, people that the council member identified as protesters from the earlier “Drag Story Hour” chalked phrases including “OK groomer,” “Erik Boccher [sic] is a pedo child groomer” and “child predator” on the sidewalk.
“There’s no more horrible attack than calling someone a child molester,” the council member said.
The building super called the police when protesters entered the building, Bottcher wrote on Twitter. They arrested two people who entered “without permission to do so,” according to an NYPD report: Erica Sanchez, 44, and D’Anna Morgan, 27. Both were issued desk appearance tickets for criminal trespass charges.
“If they think this is going to intimidate us, they’re mistaken,” Bottcher wrote on Twitter that night. The next morning, he shared video footage of a physical altercation that he said was perpetrated by a protester against one of his neighbors, on the night of the vandalism attack outside his apartment building. He also posted audio on Instagram that he said came from a voicemail before the incident, which he said he only listened to afterward. “We’re gonna come visit you,” a caller said. “Maybe you’re the pedophile ... your neighbors are gonna find us very friendly.”
New York politicians have since expressed solidarity with the council member. “This is outrageous. Completely outrageous,” Mayor Eric Adams wrote on Twitter in response to the night of vandalism and trespassing at Bottcher’s apartment building. “Erik, you stand up for our city every single day and these cowardly bigots have no place here. Thank you to the NYPD for your quick work and sending the message that this hate will not go unchallenged.”
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler tweeted, “I stand with my friend @ebottcher, Drag Queen Story Hour, and the LGBTQ+ community against this disgusting display of hate.” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine called the incident a “truly dangerous escalation” and wrote on Twitter: “The haters can not and will not win.”
Bottcher credited the NYPD for making him feel “very protected.” He told Chelsea News that working with elected officials “at all levels” of government will be crucial in fighting homophobic hate in the city and called on Republican leaders to “stand up and say something.”
“For too long, the Republican party has fueled these unhinged, right-wing conspiracy theories that are manifesting themselves in the real world in a dangerous way,” he said.
The weekend’s events, according to Bottcher, haven’t sowed division among the district’s LGBTQ+ residents. “They brought all of us closer together as a community,” he said. “This is the opposite of what these people wanted to accomplish, so their plans backfired badly.”
“If they think this is going to intimidate us, they’re mistaken.” Council Member Erik Bottcher