Chelsea Piers faced massive backlash for introducing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at a Tivkah Fund conference on Sunday, June 12. the “Don’t Say Gay” bill at the same time. The venue issued a statement renouncing all allegiance to DeSantis’ “power actions” 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 gathered outside Chelsea Piers holding ‘Say Gay’ posters and LGBTQ+ flags. The Ali Forney Center released its own statement saying its 13th annual Pride Celebrating Oasis benefit would not be held at Pier 60, as it had been for the previous nine years. It will now take place at the Tribeca Rooftop on the original date, June 19.
“What they should have done was donate and cancel the event. Made a donation to apologize and canceled the event,” said Alex Roque, President and Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center “Clearly their values align with the conservative groups that brought Ron DeSantis in, and clearly their values align with Ron DeSantis.”
AFC was launched in 2002 as a dedicated housing and care program for LGBTQ+ youth. It provides support to those who have been kicked out of their homes due to homophobia and transphobia, taking a medical and mental health approach to help young people overcome this trauma. This includes housing programs, career and education services, and life skills support to help people live on their own.
“We do what a family should do for a young person,” says Roque. “Help them, provide the support structure, the security, the care, so they can design a life for themselves.”
In a statement released by the AFC, Roque explained the decision to terminate Oasis’ contract at Chelsea Piers/Pier 60. “I have an obligation to ensure that the entities we do business with share values that do not endanger, harm or marginalize our community or anyone for that matter,” he wrote on behalf of the organization.
The Oasis Summer Cocktail was launched with the aim of raising funds for the LGBTQ+ cause at an accessible and low ticket price. Proceeds from the event go to AFC programs, many of which are underfunded.
“We are under attack”
According to Roque, the Chelsea Piers controversy has struck a chord as the goals of the AFC and Oasis have evolved due to initiatives such as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.
“There is a revival in our community, that we are under attack,” he explains. “This organization supports the young victims of the attack.” This year, Roque says, Oasis will be more than a fundraiser – it will advocate for the rights of those without families to defend them against the “hateful, harmful, alarmist and hateful demagogue of ‘Don’t Say Gay.’ “
One thing Roque and his colleagues from other LGBTQ+ organizations hope to emphasize: Boycotting events and people shouldn’t be the only focus here. The fight against lawmakers like DeSantis and “Don’t Say Gay” is nothing new, he notes, although the attention of the uproar may be. He recalls receiving a phone call more than 10 years ago, from a group of mothers in a school district in Minnesota with a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ policy in place under former U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann. – mothers crying over children who committed suicide due to bullying.
“It’s much more important than taking a stand against this person, or nullifying this person, or not supporting free speech,” Roque says. “We are actually fighting someone who is deliberately and willfully silencing free speech.”