The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan is facing accusations of "betrayal" after agreeing to host a gay conservative group whose members support President Trump and oppose nonbinary identities. [UPDATE: The event has been cancelled. Scroll down for more.]
The town hall event, scheduled to take place Thursday, March 28th, will be headlined by New York resident Brandon Straka, founder of the controversial social media campaign #WalkAway, which calls on the LGBTQ+ community to leave the Democratic party. The movement received praise from President Trump, Fox News, and Sarah Palin in the lead-up to last year's midterm elections. But others have criticized the campaign as an astroturfing operation that routinely misrepresents its popularity and relies on Russian bots.
Out first reported on the backlash to the panel after Jason Rosenberg, an activist with Act Up, shared an ad for the event on Twitter. Speaking to the magazine, Rosenberg called the invitation a "betrayal and testing of trust," and expressed concern that it could undermine the movement building that takes place at the self-described "heart and home of NYC’s LGBT community."
— Jason Rosenberg (@mynameisjro) March 20, 2019
As the magazine points out, the event features conservative YouTuber Blaire White, often described as a member of the alt-right, who's made a name for herself railing against so-called social justice warriors with videos like "There Are Only 2 Genders" and "Fat Acceptance is Stupid." She's also worn blackface, and frequently interacts with and boosts messages from white supremacist figures like Richard Spencer, Laura Southern, and Milo Yiannopoulos.
"This is incredibly egregious that you’d host an event where panelists have used queer slurs and stood behind policies that put the community at great risk,” Rosenberg wrote on Twitter. "Stand for something."
Beyond its right-wing goals, the #WalkAway campaign has faced scrutiny for its apparent reliance on fake accounts, and for expensive events that, according to Think Progress, bear all the hallmarks of a "grifting operation." The account behind one of the hashtag's most popular tweets appears to be a bot, and several memes promoting the campaign were found to feature stock photographs of people claiming they'd left the Democratic party.
CNN's David A. Love has referred to the group as "pure propaganda, a psychological operation,” while a Washington Post analysis found "little actual evidence to suggest that #WalkAway represents a mass conversion of millions — or even thousands — of Democrats to the Trump Train."
Via @placeboasis, here's another fake account trying to make #WalkAway happen. 16k RTs for "Sofia Vargoros," a bot with a profile pic stolen from -- I am not kidding -- a book about getting rich from penny stocks. pic.twitter.com/FHWPjaABaX
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) July 1, 2018
On Wednesday, the Center addressed the backlash, tweeting that they did not "support or endorse activities held by groups renting our space," while standing by the decision to host the event nonetheless.
"We acknowledge the diversity of our community’s perspectives, and while we may be disgusted by or reject the ideas some groups espouse, we will not stand in the way of their right to say them," the statement continued. "Our responsibility is to provide space for connecting and organizing across our diverse viewpoints, not to censor."
That message only prompted further outrage and disappointment, including from an LGBTQ+ center in South Carolina, which responded with a Karl Popper quote reading, in part: "Defending tolerance requires to not tolerate the intolerant."
In an open letter delivered to the Center on Thursday, a host of queer and left-wing groups denounced the decision, and called on the organization to cancel the event: "The Center must not cede an inch of space to those who question the validity of trans* and non-binary identities, peddle Islamophobic conspiracy theories, or stoke the fires of anti-Blackness."
No @LGBTCenterNYC no.
You’ve been a safe haven for us & this is a betrayal. Allowing this event to happen perpetuates messages of hate, threatens our safety as well as our progress. There are PLENTY of other spaces for them to use. Cancel it. https://t.co/5vK8FOeINS
— Javier Muñoz (@JMunozActor) March 21, 2019
UPDATE: The event has been cancelled. In a statement posted to their website, the Center said they'd reversed their position on the town hall after "learn[ing] that certain of the panelists announced for this event have made repeated, well-documented past statements that violate our mission, values and the spirit of inclusiveness for all individuals and identities that is core to our work and who we are."
The statement continued: "We extend our deep appreciation and thanks to the community members that have reached out and brought this important information to our attention, and we deeply regret the hurt and harm this booking has caused."