LGBTQ Agenda: Dem senators pull funding request for Philly LGBTQ center after Libs of TikTok trolling

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday March 19, 2024
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Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey Jr., left, and John Fetterman withdrew a federal funding request for the William Way LGBT Community Center after a Libs of TikTok post falsely alleged fetish parties take place at the facility. Photos: From Facebook
Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey Jr., left, and John Fetterman withdrew a federal funding request for the William Way LGBT Community Center after a Libs of TikTok post falsely alleged fetish parties take place at the facility. Photos: From Facebook

Proposed federal funding for an LGBTQ community center in Philadelphia was pulled at the 11th hour by the state's two Democratic U.S. senators after it was criticized by a popular anti-LGBTQ social media account.

Senators John Fetterman and Bob Casey Jr. had inserted a $1 million earmark into an appropriations bill for renovations at the William Way LGBT Community Center. As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, the center was among three that House Democrats had wanted to provide funding for last year, but could not due to GOP opposition. The center has been trying to find money for its renovation and expansion project that "will provide more access to services for our seniors, provide jobs for the neighborhood, and be an incubator for emerging small businesses," as the center's Executive Director Chris Bartlett stated at the time.

The anti-LGBTQ Libs of TikTok account alleged in an X post March 5 that the William Way center "boasts rooms to try BDSM and s*x f*tishes and hosts BDSM and s*x k*nk parties."

The post called out Fetterman and Casey for requesting the funding. Casey, the more moderate of the Keystone State's two senators, is up for reelection this year. Fetterman, who is more progressive, defeated far right candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2022.

"Absolutely sick that our tax dollars would fund this!" the Libs of TikTok post stated.

A March 5 letter from Fetterman to Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked for the funding to be removed.

"After further review, I am writing to withdraw my support and request the removal of the below Fiscal Year 2024 Congressionally Directed Spending Project included in the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies appropriations bill," Fetterman's letter stated.

On March 6, Fetterman disavowed the letter, saying he "was not part of the process."

"It was a perfunctory letter that was issued by the staff," he stated. But he did stand by his decision.

"I have no problem with what consenting adults do in their private time," Fetterman stated. "Unfortunately, at the 11th hour my staff was made aware that funding for William Way, which was in the bill because I championed it, would not pass in the FY24 appropriations process. The choice was either to pull it or watch it get stripped out, attacked by Republicans, and ultimately killed.

"This is not the end of this fight and I am going to fight for William Way to secure their funding in the FY25 appropriations process," he added. "I'm new here, but I wasn't aware that Democratic values and priorities are dictated by Libs of TikTok."

Casey also stuck to pulling the funding. Spokesperson Mairead Lynn stated, "Casey has been a leader and ally in the fight to protect LGBTQ rights in the U.S. Senate and will continue to support the LGBTQ community in the Commonwealth [of Pennsylvania]. He believes that consenting adults have the right to do whatever they want in their free time, but these types of appropriations projects warrant the highest level of scrutiny on behalf of taxpayers. Senator Casey withdrew his request for federal funding when new information about the third-party use of the facility emerged."

The decision was reminiscent of a two-decade old incident in San Francisco, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted an audit of the Stop AIDS Project in response to allegations of misuse of federal funds on obscene content. Stop AIDS Project was found to be in compliance with federal laws and regulations; it merged with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 2011.

The AIDS foundation did not return a request for comment.

Allegations are false, Philly center says

The William Way center is outraged. The program mentioned in the Libs of TikTok post was by an outside organization that rented space at the center.

"These extremists falsely stated that sexual behavior is allowed in rental programs of the center, which is inaccurate and against our center's code of conduct," a Facebook post March 7 stated. "The center will continue to be a safe haven for a broad range of hundreds of community groups who rent from us, including those that provide a space for sexual health promotion, community building, and education.

"The William Way LGBT Community Center stands firmly against discrimination and will work with our elected officials to ensure that support for our center, and other LGBTQ institutions across the nation, is restored," the post stated.

Center officials did not respond to a request for additional comment.

The Libs of TikTok post had shown a newspaper listing for an event for "people aged 18 and up interested in BDSM, kink and fetish" at the site every second Saturday of the month called the Aviary. The Aviary's website states, "sex and/or penetration is not allowed" and that "bodily fluids (blood, saliva, etc.) may not leave the body."

The Aviary did not respond to a request for comment.

The decision by Casey and Fetterman also outraged Mark Segal, a gay man who is the longtime publisher of Philadelphia Gay News.

"No sex took place, only discussions of sexuality, and the community center rents space to outside organizations who abide by their rules, which includes no sex in the building," Segal wrote in an opinion piece for PGN. "What those trolls didn't say was that the group that rented the space wasn't an LGBT organization; it had many heterosexual members.

"Here's the point: if your organization is renting space to third-party organizations, the Republicans might use those programs to defund you," Segal wrote. "They might go after a safe-sex lecture, for example. The right wing has a fascination with our sexuality, and they like to paint us with that brush only. Maybe that is why there is a need for sex-positive seminars in our community?"

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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