PA Senators Fetterman and Casey retreat from LGBTQ center earmark amid Libs of Tik Tok smear

A $1 million earmark for the William Way LGBT Community Center was removed from the $468 billion government spending bill

PA Senators John Fetterman and Bob Casey.

Congressional appropriators on Wednesday scrapped funding for an LGBTQ+ community center in Philadelphia at the request of Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators, two Democrats who withdrew their support for an earmark that was targeted by a high-profile conservative social media account.

Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey asked members of the Senate Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee on Tuesday to ax a $1 million earmark for the William Way LGBT Community Center from the $468 billion government spending bill Congress is poised to clear this week.

The House passed the package Wednesday, without the funding for the center.

A post on X from the conservative social media account Libs of TikTok appeared to show an advertisement for a sexual “play party” hosted by a third party at the center.

Fetterman said on X that his staff believed the bill wouldn’t pass with the funding included, while a Casey spokesperson said the use of the venue by a third party raised concerns for the senator.

The $1 million in federal funding was to be spent to expand and renovate William Way to be an “inclusive, fully accessible, and welcoming space for all individuals to gather, learn, and find lifegiving support.”

Libs of TikTok, which targets advocates for progressive social issues, brought renewed attention to federal funding for the center, which has been the subject of past congressional funding fights.

In a Tuesday post to X about the spending package released over the weekend, the account said the measure “includes $1M of your tax dollars to go towards renovating an LGBTQ Center in PA which boasts rooms to try BDSM and s*x f*tishes and hosts BDSM and s*x k*nk parties.” Language in the post refers to specific alternative sexual preferences, including bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism, often shortened to BDSM, or just kink.

Fetterman and Casey signed letters Tuesday to the Senate Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee asking to remove the earmark from a 306-page list of specific projects sponsored by members of Congress in the fiscal 2024 bill.

Fetterman, Casey respond

In his own post to X on Wednesday, Fetterman said the William Way Center was a worthy organization and he didn’t support pulling the funding, “which was in the bill because I championed it.”

But after his staff was “made aware” that the massive government funding bill wouldn’t pass with the earmark included, he opted to pull his support.

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

Fetterman, who is in his first term in the Senate, complained about Libs of TikTok’s influence in the matter.

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

In an interview with Politico, Fetterman said his staff made the decision to withdraw support without his input.

“I wasn’t part of that decision,” he said. “It wasn’t my personal decision to do that.”

A spokesperson for Casey told States Newsroom in a statement that the senator “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.”

“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,” said Mairead Lynn.

Center blames ‘lies and distortions’

A representative for the William Way LGBT Community Center said the organization was disappointed to learn that the funding “was withdrawn as a result of lies and distortions about our Center shared by political extremists.”

Renee Gillinger, the center’s capital campaign director, said in a statement that “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.”

The center advertises several event space rental options on its website.

Gillinger said the center, which offers peer counseling, wellness programs, and resources for the trans community, among other services, “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,” Gillinger said.

LGBTQ center earmarks

To counter possible charges of wasteful spending, Congress permits earmarks, also known as congressionally directed spending, in government funding bills as long as they are sponsored by at least one member in the House and Senate and are listed with brief descriptions in tables accompanying the bills.

Fetterman and Casey, as well as House Democrat Brendan Boyle, sponsored the William Way funding.

The withdrawal this week wasn’t the first time this fiscal year that lawmakers contested an earmark for the William Way Center. It was among three congressional funding requests for LGBTQ community centers that House Republicans stripped from the lower chamber’s bill in July.

The earmarks, totaling $3.6 million, were slated for the William Way Center and the LGBT Center of Greater Reading in Pennsylvania and LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc. in Massachusetts. They had previously been approved by GOP appropriators at the request of House Democrats.

Maryland Republican Andy Harris at the July committee markup compared funding for the sites to funding Ku Klux Klan projects because the centers had organized protests against conservative mothers.

Fetterman said at the time that removing the funding from the centers was “flat out, mask-off bigotry.”

Boyle’s office did not return a request for comment.

This article was originally published by our partners at the Penn Capital-Star on March 6, 2024.