Congress drops funding for LGBTQ+ community center after ‘Libs of TikTok’ scorn

Lawmakers have stripped a $1 million earmark for a LGBTQ+ community center in Philadelphia from the funding package Congress is expected to clear this week.

Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) office, in a letter to appropriators, requested the funding be cut from the bill. But he said Wednesday that his staff had made the decision to pull the funding without his input, and implied that a conservative social media account, which accused the center of hosting sex parties, had played a part in the decision.

“I wasn’t part of that decision. It wasn’t my personal decision to do that,” he said in an interview. “I never realized that the Libs of TikTok should determine our priorities and what we’re going to support,” referencing a notorious conservative account.

Libs of TikTok posted March 5 that the funding would help a center that promoted a forthcoming event for those interested in “BDSM, kink and fetish” and singled out Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Fetterman for supporting the funds.

Fetterman was personally briefed on the community center earmark on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the meeting, countering the Democratic senator’s assertions that staffers took action to withdraw the funding without his input. A spokesperson for Fetterman denied that the senator was briefed.

The Pennsylvanian said in a statement that his staff felt the choice was either to “pull it or watch it get stripped out, attacked by Republicans, and ultimately killed.” He added that he would continue to push for the funds in next year’s funding measures.

The last-minute nixing is the latest in a blistering eight-month feud over steering federal cash to programs that serve LGBTQ+ people. It started last summer when Democrats accused House Republicans of behaving like “terrorists” as they worked to strip millions of dollars lawmakers had already secured for projects in their districts.

Casey said in a brief interview Wednesday that “new information” obtained Tuesday caused him to yank his support.

“We made a decision upon receiving new information yesterday — and only yesterday — to not support the appropriation,” he told POLITICO, without elaborating on that new information. “We have new information that caused me to decide to pull support for the earmark.”

A Casey spokesperson said he “will continue to support the LGBTQ community” in Pennsylvania and that “consenting adults have the right to do whatever they want in their free time.”

However, the spokesperson added, “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 funding for the William Way LGBTQ Community Center was included in the final earmark list top lawmakers released Sunday in rolling out the six-bill spending package the House is set to pass Wednesday afternoon. But that $1 million to renovate and expand the center is missing from the official list submitted for the Congressional Record.

The executive director of the LGBTQ+ center said the funding was withdrawn “as a result of lies and distortions” by “political extremists.”

“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,” Chris Bartlett, who heads the William Way LGBT Community Center, said in a statement.

The office of Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), a leading proponent of the funding, declined to comment. The center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

House Republicans were also successful in blocking other LGBTQ+ earmarks from the final funding bills, including a $970,000 project Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) initially got approved last summer for an LGBTQ+ housing program in her southeastern Pennsylvania district. GOP lawmakers also stripped out $850,000 for affordable housing units for LGBTQ+ seniors in Boston that Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) initially got approved.

Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.

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