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Two Democratic Senators Strip Support For LGBTQ Center Following 'Libs Of Tik Tok' Smear

Two Senate Democrats have rescinded their support for $1 million in federal funding for a Philadelphia LGBTQ center, after pressure from right-wing social media accounts.

Pennsylvania Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey had previously pushed for the funding to go towards expanding and renovating the William Way LGBT Community Center, which offers counseling, senior services and arts programming.

But late Tuesday, Fetterman’s office issued a letter withdrawing support for the funding after Libs of TikTok, a right-wing social media account run by Chaya Raichik, highlighted the center’s alleged involvement with kink and BDSM-centric events. Other conservative operatives had also joined in the attacks.

On Tuesday, the influential anti-trans Twitter account Libs of TikTok posted screenshots of the recipients of funding requested by Fetterman and Casey and a post about a BDSM event at the center. The social media post said the center hosted “s*x k*nk parties,” but the event description calls it an “interactive theater night” about fetish culture where sex is not allowed.

Renee Gilinger, a director at the center, told HuffPost she was disappointed to learn that the withdrawal of funds came as “a result of lies and distortion about our Center shared by political extremists.”

“These extremists falsely state that sexual behavior is allowed in rental programs of the Center, which is inaccurate and against our Center’s code of conduct,” Gilinger said over email.

The Libs Of TikTok account is infamous for drumming up fear and anger over LGBTQ issues and other culture war topics. Police have reported an uptick in bomb threats and harassment of individuals and institutions after the account targets and posts about them.

On Wednesday, Fetterman offered multiple explanations for his reversal. Early in the day, he told reporters in the Capitol that the decision to pull the funding was made by his staff.

“This was a perfunctory letter issued by my staff,” he said. I was not part of that and I don’t support that.”

In a later statement from his office, the senator maintained that it was a staff decision, but explained that his office believed that bipartisan negotiators would end up stripping the funding anyhow — and took a shot at Democratic Senate leadership.

“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,” he said in a statement to HuffPost. “The choice was either to pull it or watch it get stripped out, attacked by Republicans, and ultimately killed.”

“I’m new here,” he added. “But I wasn’t aware that Democratic values and priorities are dictated by Libs of TikTok.”

Funding for the Philadelphia center had been rolled into a government spending bill that passed the GOP-controlled House Wednesday.

Casey also issued a letter on Tuesday withdrawing his support of the federal funding. Unlike Fetterman, however, he defended his move.

A spokesperson for Casey told Business Insider that the senator will “continue to support the LGBTQ community” and “believes that consenting adults have the right to do whatever they want in their free time.”

But Casey “withdrew his request for funding when new information about the third-party use of the facility emerged,” the spokesperson said.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.