By Arthur Z. Schwartz
On December 4, the New York Times ran a full page story titled “Druggings, Deaths and Robberies Put City’s Gay Community on Edge.” Two gay men have been killed in the last few months, and of course there was the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs on November 19, leading Senators Brad Hoylman and Daniel O’Donnell to introduce new legislation to expand the Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Program to find additional funding for security at businesses frequented by largely LGBTQ customers.
Then the hate campaign hit home. On Saturday, December 17th, City Council member Erik Bottcher (who represents the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen) attended a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in Manhattan. Over the weekend, Bottcher posted video he’d recorded of protesters demonstrating outside the building. On Monday, angry protesters stormed the councilman’s office on West 30th and defaced it with graffiti. According to Bottcher, a group of protesters arrived at his district office on Monday afternoon and tried to enter.
“They came up to the 12th floor, and they banged on the door and pushed on the door and proceeded to basically yell and rant and rave for about half an hour while our staff was inside, just saying really appalling things about me being a groomer,” he said. “Just really awful things. And my staff — we were all here. It was really upsetting.”
As the group left, its members vandalized the walls of the hallway, featuring a vulgar variation of his last name.
Two hours later, a group of protesters from a group called Guardians of Divinity, a QAnon offshoot, gathered about six blocks away at the apartment building where Mr. Bottcher lives, with at least two gaining entry. Erica Sanchez, 44, of the Bronx, and D’Anna Morgan, 27, of Queens, were both arrested. “When I got back to my building, the police were there. They had cordoned off the front of the building. The sidewalk was filled with just vile epithets calling me a child molester, pedophile—just really awful, awful stuff,” Bottcher said.
“I wish I could say that I’m surprised that there are people in New York City that would travel around the city and harass families going to these events, but I’m not surprised by it,” he said. “Even though we’re in New York City, there are very deep reservoirs of hate in corners of our city and there are people who are, frankly, unwell and who succumb to these unhinged online conspiracy theories, and that’s what this is.” Some of the protesters engaged in a physical altercation with one of his neighbors. Bottcher said the group’s harassment went even further, adding that he discovered threatening messages left on his personal cell phone over the weekend.
Bottcher, who is gay, has served on the City Council since January.
Mayor Eric Adams condemned the incidents on Twitter, calling them “outrageous.”
“Erik, you stand up for our city every single day and these cowardly bigots have no place here. Thank you to the NYPD for your quick work and sending the message that this hate will not go unchallenged,” Adams wrote.
Bottcher said the outpouring of support has been “heartwarming” and that Adams even stopped by his apartment yesterday to see if he was okay. But when it comes to preventing incidents like this from happening again, the councilman said more needs to be done.
“People in positions of power have to start taking responsibility for their words that have very serious real-life consequences,” he said. “People on the political right, when they promote these conspiratorial attacks and throw around the term groomer, that manifests itself in real life in very dangerous ways. The people who committed these acts are trying to intimidate us into silence, but it’s not going to work,” he said. “If anything, their tactics have backfired, because this has only strengthened our resolve. We will not waiver in our struggle against bigotry and hatred.”
If you think homophobic and anti-trans hatred is relegated to “red states,” think again. The QAnon conspiracy believers, whose beliefs center on this hatred, are right here in New York. Villagers won’t stand for it. Erik Bottcher needs and deserves our support for his bold stand.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village