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Federal arrest in arson case of Brooklyn LGBTQ+ nightclub

Two employees of Rash were injured and required hospitalization. The building sustained heavy damage due to the fire

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Surveillance video screengrab via FDNY

BROOKLYN, Ny. – A criminal complaint was unsealed Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn charging a borough resident, John Lhota, 24, with the April 3, 2022 arson of Rash, a bar and nightclub in Bushwick frequented by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Lhota was arrested yesterday and will make his initial appearance this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann.

Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; John B. DeVito, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and Laura Kavanagh, Acting Commissioner, New York City Fire Department (FDNY), announced the arrest and charge.

“As alleged, Lhota deliberately set fire to a bar and nightclub patronized by members of the LGBTQ+ community, seriously injuring two of its employees, and endangering all present including the tenants of the building as well as the first responders who battled the blaze for approximately one hour,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “This Office strongly condemns such acts of violence, and will vigorously prosecute this case. The victims, and all LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, should be able to enjoy their nights out in peace and without fear of such a dangerous attack.”

Mr. Peace praised the Special Agents, Fire Marshals and Detectives of the Arson and Explosives Task Force for their outstanding investigative work on the case.

“Arson is a violent crime that impacts all New Yorkers. The prompt investigation leading to the arrest of Lhota demonstrates the commitment of the Arson and Explosive (A&E) Task Force to rapidly apprehend and bring to justice those who violently attack members of our community. ATF and its partners at FDNY and NYPD hope for the quick and full recovery of the victims,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge DeVito.  

“This was a brazen act of arson that seriously injured two people, placed the lives of residents and dozens of Firefighters in grave danger, and struck fear throughout an entire community,” said Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. “I commend our Fire Marshals for their outstanding work alongside members of the NYPD and ATF to apprehend this dangerous individual.”

As set forth in the complaint, on the evening of April 3, 2022, Lhota was captured on security video purchasing a red gas canister at a service station and filling it with gasoline. Lhota then proceeded to Rash, located on the ground floor of a multi-story building at 941 Willoughby Avenue, where he allegedly poured gasoline over the floor of the bar.

FDNY responds to the fire at the Rash Bar in Bushwick (Photo Credit: @PETESASSAFRASSS/TWITTER)

The video showed Lhota tossing a lit cigarette on the floor, but the gasoline did not ignite. Lhota then used a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline, causing an explosion and a fire. The floors above Rash contain residential apartments. Firefighters responded to the location and extinguished the blaze.

Two employees of Rash were injured and required hospitalization. The building sustained heavy damage due to the fire. Security video captured Lhota fleeing the burning nightclub.

The charge in the complaint is an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Lhota faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment, and a maximum of 40 years’ imprisonment.

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Long Island library reverses decision to pull LGBTQ Pride display & books

“The Board of Trustees reversed its decision to ban Pride displays & books in the children’s section! This happened because YOU spoke up!”

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Smithtown Library, Long Island NY (Smithtown Library Board/Facebook)

SMITHTOWN, Ny. – The Smithtown Library Board of Trustees met in an emergency session Thursday night to rescind its Tuesday vote to ban any and all displays related to LGBTQ Pride from kids’ areas at Smithtown Library buildings.

The Board’s Tuesday decision was met with anger and dismay including New York Governor Kathy Hochul who wrote on Twitter, “Our public spaces should be accepting our young people — not rejecting them.”

The New York Library Association had also issued a statement saying; “This ban of any displays related to Pride sets a dangerous precedent for libraries across the state because it normalizes the victimization of LGBTQ+ youth in their schools and in their communities, which has dire consequences.

The Hauppauge New York-based LGBT Network credited the onslaught of public anger and criticism including Governor Hochul’s as the mitigating factors in the reversal by the library board. The group also warned that there is a larger fight being waged that imperils LGBTQ+ youth.

“Tonight the Smithtown Library Board of Trustees reversed its decision to ban Pride displays and books in the children’s section of their library! This happened because YOU spoke up and spoke out! It is a reason to celebrate and demonstrates what our collective power can do. But it is also a wakeup call that the culture wars targeting LGBTQ youth are very much here in our backyard,” a statement on the group’s website noted.

“The reversal overall is good because it gets those books and displays back into the libraries,” LGBT Network vice president Robert Vitelli told local media after the library board reversed itself. “The commentary that went along with the votes shows there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”

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Long Island library yanks LGBTQ+ Pride display & books from kids section

“Our LGBTQ youth are under attack- This isn’t Alabama or Florida or the bible belt — this is Long Island!”

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Library books on shelves at the Smithtown library main branch (Screenshot/Tube NBC New York)

SMITHTOWN, Ny. – A 4-2 vote Tuesday by the Smithtown Library Board of Trustees to ban any and all displays related to LGBTQ Pride from kids’ areas at Smithtown Library buildings, was met with anger and dismay including New York Governor Kathy Hochul who wrote on Twitter, “Our public spaces should be accepting our young people — not rejecting them.”

The New York Library Association issued a statement saying; “This ban of any displays related to Pride sets a dangerous precedent for libraries across the state because it normalizes the victimization of LGBTQ+ youth in their schools and in their communities, which has dire consequences.

According to The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 40% LGBTQ respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months, and more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered suicide.

Further, GLSEN’s School Climate Survey for LGBTQ+ Students in New York reported over 50%
of LGBTQ+ students experienced at least one form of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in their
schools. Although countless research points towards how public LGBTQ+ representation is life
saving for LGBTQ+ youth – only 28% of students in New York were taught positive
representations of LGBTQ+ people, history, or events.

“Our LGBTQ youth are under attack,” said Dr. David Kilmnick, the president and CEO of the New York LGBTQ Network. “This isn’t Alabama or Florida or the bible belt — this is Long Island!”

“You come after our kids, we’re going after you. We’re gonna replace you on the school boards, we’re gonna replace you on the library boards,” Kilmnick added.

Brianna Baker-Stines, the president of the library board, was similarly shocked and disappointed by the actions taken. She told NBC New York, “I was horrified by the display of ignorance at last night’s Board meeting. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I recognize the importance of access to diverse materials.”

The New York Library Association also signaled its support of the staff of library:

Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker said “I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone.”

“Earlier this year, when Florida was ramming destructive ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws through its State Legislature, I lamented the fact that this coordinated, nationwide assault on the LGBTQ+ community could soon arrive on our doorstep. Well, it’s here,” he said in a statement. “What transpired yesterday in Smithtown shows us that we cannot pull the wool over our own eyes for a moment longer by saying, ‘it won’t happen here.'”

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NYC LGBTQ+ groups protest DeSantis appearance at Chelsea Piers 

“The bottom line is Chelsea Piers is providing a venue to propagate hate toward the LGBTQ community and that is unacceptable on many levels”

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U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) poses with protestors outside Chelsea Piers (Photo credit: Rep. Carolyn Maloney/Twitter)

NEW YORK CITY – An appearance by anti-LGBTQ+ Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis speaking to the Jewish Leadership Conference at Chelsea Piers sparked protests Sunday by LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and several elected officials including U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

The appearance by the Florida governor, who signed the state’s infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay Law’ and during a press conference last week where he also suggested he might urge the state’s child protective services to investigate parents who take their children to drag shows, was decried as insensitive and offensive during LGBTQ+ Pride month held every June to commemorate the 1969 LGBTQ+ uprising at the Stonewall Inn which is located about 2 miles away.

State Senator Brad Hoylman who represents Chelsea has joined other Democratic politicians and NYC leaders and urged Chelsea Piers to say no to hate and demagoguery: “The bottom line is Chelsea Piers is providing a venue to propagate hate toward the LGBTQ community and that is unacceptable on many levels, including that it is Pride and that it is in Chelsea, the heart of the community,” Hoylman said.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney tweeted her disgust at both the Florida Governor and Chelsea Piers:

In a tweet of his own DeSantis fired back at his critics:

The venue told the New York Times that it would be donating money to groups that support LGBTQ+ rights to mitigate the fallout. The Times reported the decision by Chelsea Piers to donate money has not mollified critics.

Other groups are canceling upcoming events at Chelsea Piers. Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for GLAAD, said his organization would “refrain from future events” at the complex, “given the platform that Chelsea Piers is giving to one of the most anti-L.G.B.T.Q. and dangerous politicians today.”

The Ali Forney Center, a group that works with homeless L.G.B.T.Q. youth in New York, said on Friday that it would no longer be holding a program there next month. “People are saying this issue is about freedom of speech, but it is not. It is in response to DeSantis silencing freedom of speech in schools,” the group’s president, Alex Roque, wrote in a statement.

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