LGBTQ groups, still raw over legislation barring instruction about sexual orientation to grade schoolers that DeSantis championed in his home state, are vowing to protest the Republican’s appearance at the Jewish Leadership Conference.
Critics have derisively called it the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman said it was “outrageous” that the governor was speaking during Pride Month and in an area not far from the birthplace of the gay rights movement in Manhattan’s West Village.
He called DeSantis an “outspoken opponent of LGBTQ equality who is trying to foist his agenda on LGBTQ families, and it’s extremely hurtful and distressing.”
DeSantis campaign spokesman Dave Abrams did not respond directly to that criticism, but said the governor “will always stand up for what is right and will not be deterred by the radical Left.”
DeSantis, who is widely believed to be weighing a bid for the White House in 2024, inflamed ire among LGBTQ groups when in March he signed into law a bill that forbids Florida schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to public school students from kindergarten through the third grade.
At the time of the bill signing, DeSantis said schools were a place for “an education, not an indoctrination.”
The Jewish Leadership Conference has already lost one venue in New York City after adding DeSantis to its list of speakers.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage had been set to host the annual gathering of conservative thinkers, but backed out earlier this spring.
The museum cited security issues among its key concerns, plus a desire not to host political speakers, but in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the leaders of the Tikvah Fund, the group organizing the conference, accused the museum of having a political litmus test.
“We know things are bad when a Jewish institution – in this case, a museum whose purpose is to keep Jewish heritage alive by remembering the Holocaust – turns on its own and tries to make a virtue of its own intolerance,” wrote Tikvah CEO Eric Cohen and its chairman, Elliott Abrams.
The op-ed asserted that protecting free speech was more important than concerns over protests or a potential backlash from donors.
“The new czars of cancel culture seem to have little such moral imagination or civic tolerance,” they wrote.
The Coalition for Jewish Values, which says it represents more than 2,000 Orthodox rabbis, scolded the museum for denying DeSantis a platform.
The museum penned an op-ed of its own, saying its charter forbids it from renting space for purely political or religious reasons.
“When we declined to host the event, Tikvah resorted to threats, saying we had created an enemy. Tikvah knew that this was not about banning anyone from speaking but decided to make the false claim anyway. We will not respond to such political bullying,” Jack Kliger, the president and CEO of the museum, wrote.
It’s unlikely pressure from outside groups will derail the conference a second time.
A spokesman for the new venue, Pier Sixty, located in the Chelsea Piers complex, said it was not in a position to arbitrate any differences between the groups, saying it has had a long history of being inclusive. This month, its website features support for gay pride month.
“Pier Sixty has never discriminated against any group or organization nor have we ever based our acceptance of a booking contingent on our approval of the speakers our clients choose to present at these private events,” it said through a spokesman.
“Our accepting a booking in no ways implies that we endorse the respective organization or its speakers,” the statement said. “We are also extremely proud of our deep and longstanding connection with the LGBTQ+ community.”
Conference organizers were preparing for a planned Sunday morning protest outside the venue.
“We are working with law enforcement to make sure that protesters can exercise their constitutional rights and also keep our guests and speakers safe and comfortable,” said Jonathan Silver, who co-chairs the conference for the Tikvah Fund.
DeSantis was listed as giving a speech on “the Florida Model and Why It’s Good for Religious Americans.”
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