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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



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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New York

Teen social media influencer cancels Bronx event after threats

“I’m going to that library, I’m going with a bucked of dog shit and I’m pouring it on your parents and rubbing it into their eyes” 



Desmond Napoles, aka 'Desmond is Amazing" (Photo Credit: Desmond is Amazing/Facebook)

BRONX, Ny. – An event scheduled to take place on Saturday at the Morrisania Library in the Bronx hosted by LGBTQ+ teen celebrity, social media influencer and drag artist Desmond Napoles, known by their stage name of ‘Desmond is Amazing,’ was cancelled after threats were made according to Amy Geduldig, a spokesperson for the New York Public Library, (NYPL).

The high school sophomore who likes to volunteer at the New York Public Library “because it’s really fun and it gives me something to do during the summer” was slated to present two teen-focused sessions reading from their book, “Be Amazing: A History of Pride.”

The New York Daily News along with Facebook posts on their ‘Desmond is Amazing‘ page reported that the 15-year-old received hate-filled and violent threats. The Daily News noted that Desmond was called “disgusting” and a range of slurs by a person using a recently created Instagram account who also threatened to use violence against Desmond and their family.

“You need to be locked away in a dog kennel and thrown into the ocean,” read one of the 10 private messages sent to the teen, which were seen by the Daily News.

The Instagram account was reported to the New York City Police Department (NYPD) as well as the NYPL. The Insta user also threatened: “I’m going to that library, I’m going with a bucked of dog shit and I’m pouring it on your parents and rubbing it into their eyes.” 

According to the Daily News, Desmond’s mother Wendy Napoles figured they would be OK and that the person was “just another cyberbully” — something the family has encountered before. “But on Saturday, he called the library to find out if Desmond was still going to be there,” she said.

The person, a man with a phone number linked to a business in Louisiana, then went on an angry tirade, saying that such events should not be allowed at the library, calling Desmond “a little faggot.” The library decided to cancel for the safety of everyone involved.

There has been escalating attacks and threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community in the past year, many spurred on by posts spread on social media including those made by a former Brooklyn real estate agent, Chaya Raichik, known online as Libs of TikTok, who spreads far-right extremism and conspiracy materials often targeting the LGBTQ+ community directly.

This particular event in the Bronx was not present in Raichik’s Twitter feed.

Raichik and other far-right extremists target drag queen story hours and LGBTQ+ book readings often referring to those events as “grooming” or framing the events in a way to inflame anti-LGBTQ+ animus.

Raichik has also garnered support from far-right leaning politicos including a recent endorsement by Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

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New York

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!”



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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New York

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!”



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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New York

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”



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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New York

Massive Progress Pride flag in New York debuts with Ballet Hispánico

The Progress Pride Flag places emphasis on inclusion & progression with colors representing marginalized communities of color & trans people



Dancers from Ballet Hispánico and the Progress Pride Flag (Photo by Steven Pisano)

NEW YORK CITY – The installation of the largest Progress Pride Flag in New York State was celebrated at the FDR Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island, NYC this week, with dancers from with Ballet Hispánico. Sponsored by the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, in partnership with New York State Office of  Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the flag measures more than 100 feet long by 30 feet wide. 

Photo by Steven Pisano

The 2022 Progress Pride Flag places greater emphasis on inclusion and progression with  added colors representing marginalized LGBTQIA+ communities of color and transgender communities.

The installation of the largest Pride Flag in New York State is a reminder of the  importance of the Four Freedoms as articulated in Franklin Roosevelt’s January 1941 State of the Union speech.

This year,  FFPC invited Ballet Hispánico, the country’s leading Latinx dance company to launch this year’s Progress Pride Flag  installation. Dance is a cherished form of expression that aligns with the Conservancy’s mission.

Photo by Steven Pisano

“Four Freedoms Park Conservancy’s mission is singular and simple: we create public programs, commission public art and  produce installations to ignite conservations about basic human rights. President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, articulated these,  in what now seems stunningly prescient: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and  Freedom from Fear. This is what The Progress Pride Flag stands for – inclusion means inclusion in all the freedoms from economic security to freedom from fear and of course freedom of expression,” said Howard Axel, CEO Four Freedoms Park  Conservancy. “Could there be an organization more suited to express the Freedoms than Ballet Hispánico – one of the  nation’s great cultural treasures that combines artistic excellence with advocacy? I hope this flag inspires New Yorkers to get  outside with Pride!”

Photo by Steven Pisano

The FDR Four Freedoms State Park is one of the nation’s only monuments dedicated to essential human freedoms; the Park’s  Progress Pride Flag installation serves as both a symbol of solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community and a reminder of the  collective progress needed to achieve these freedoms. The installation is part of a series of special public offerings to  commemorate the 10th anniversary of the State Park, which opened to the public in 2012. 

“Ballet Hispánico is thrilled to have been selected to help launch the 2022 Progress Pride Flag, an installation which aligns  with our mission of representation, inclusion, and accessibility through culture and dance,” said Ballet Hispánico Artistic  Director and CEO Eduardo Vilaro. “As an organization that is deeply involved in community engagement and education, and  grounded in our rich history in New York City, it is as honor to be able to participate in something meant to be enjoyed by  all.”

“We are proud to send this bold message of inclusion and acceptance at FDR Four Freedoms State Park,” said New York  State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. “Thanks to the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy for helping to make the park  welcoming and open to all – and highlighting again what it means to be free.” 

Visitors are encouraged to post their photos on social media using #4Freedomspark #NYStateParks Entrance to the Park is free to the public and it is open Wednesdays through Mondays from 9:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. and is  closed on Tuesdays.

The Park is accessible via the Tramway at East 60th St. and Second Avenue, F train to Roosevelt Island  stop, NYC Ferry (Astoria Route), Q102 bus from Queens and by car (no on-site parking available). Click here for detailed  directions.


Photo by Steven Pisano

For fifty years Ballet Hispánico has been the leading voice intersecting artistic excellence and advocacy and is now the largest  Latinx cultural organization in the United States and one of America’s Cultural Treasures. Ballet Hispánico brings  communities together to celebrate and explore Latino cultures through innovative dance productions, transformative dance  training, and enduring community engagement experiences.

National Medal of Arts recipient Tina Ramirez founded Ballet  Hispánico in 1970, at the height of the post-war civil rights movements. From its inception Ballet Hispánico focused on  providing a haven for Black and Brown Latinx youth and families seeking artistic place and cultural sanctuary.

By providing  the space for Latinx dance and dancers to flourish, Ballet Hispánico uplifted marginalized emerging and working artists, which  combined with the training, authenticity of voice, and power of representation, fueled the organization’s roots and trajectory. 

In 2009, Ballet Hispánico welcomed Eduardo Vilaro as its Artistic Director, ushering in a new era by inserting fresh energy to  the company’s founding values and leading Ballet Hispánico into an artistically vibrant future.

Today, Ballet Hispánico ’s New  York City headquarters house a School of Dance and state-of-the-art dance studios for its programs and the arts community.  From its grassroots origins as a dance school and community-based performing arts troupe, for fifty years Ballet Hispánico has  stood as a catalyst for social change.

Ballet Hispánico provides the physical home and cultural heart for Latinx dance in the  United States. Ballet Hispánico has developed a robust public presence across its three main programs: its Company, School of  Dance, and Community Arts Partnerships.

Through its exemplary artistry, distinguished training program, and deep-rooted  community engagement efforts Ballet Hispánico champions and amplifies underrepresented voices in the field.

For fifty years  Ballet Hispánico has provided a place of honor for the omitted, overlooked, and oppressed. As it looks to the next fifty years  and beyond, Ballet Hispánico seeks to empower, and give agency to, the Latinx experience and those individuals within it.

For  more information, visit Follow Ballet Hispánico on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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New York

Governor Hochul: New Yorkers can use “X” as a gender marker

“Every person, regardless of their gender identity or expression, deserves to have an identity document that reflects who they are”



Courtesy of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles

ALBANY – New York Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul announced Friday that New Yorkers will have the option to choose “X” as a gender marker on their driver license, learner permit, or non-driver ID card at all Department of Motor Vehicle offices statewide.

This change is being implemented in accordance with the State’s Gender Recognition Act, which goes into effect on June 24.

This landmark legislation provides expanded protections for transgender and non-binary New Yorkers through this change at the DMV and by making it easier for people to change their names, change their sex designation and change their birth certificates to reflect their identity.  

“As we prepare to celebrate Pride Month in a few days, I am excited to announce this historic change that represents another victory in our fight to help ensure equality and respect for the LGBTQ+ community,” Hochul said. “Every person, regardless of their gender identity or expression, deserves to have an identity document that reflects who they are. My administration remains committed to ensuring that New York is a place of value, love and belonging for members of the LGBTQ+ community.” 

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder said, “Perhaps more than any other state agency, New Yorkers directly engage with their government through the DMV, so offering identity documents that are representative of all New Yorkers is a significant milestone. We are thrilled to implement this new option that we know will have a positive impact on the lives of so many of our customers.”   

NY Division of Human Rights Commissioner Maria Imperial said, “We applaud our state’s important action to ensure that these essential ID documents accurately reflect and affirm who we are. We will continue working to advance dignity and eliminate discrimination against transgender and non-binary people in New York State.”  

Deputy Chief Diversity Officer Priya Nair said, “As a transgender and non-binary New Yorker, this action means that I can now get a driver license that better reflects my identity. It’s not only the correct gender marker, but it’s also an action which demonstrates that New York State affirms and sees me for who I am. Thank you to Governor Hochul, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and all of the non-binary and transgender advocates who pushed for this important and inclusive change. As other states attack and roll back protections for transgender people, I am proud to live in a state that will continue to fight for our communities.” 

New Yorkers who have an existing driver license, learner permit, or non-driver ID will have the option to change the gender marker on their photo ID from “M” or “F” to “X”, and those who are applying for a NYS photo ID for the first time will have the option to choose “X”. This can be done by completing the Application for Permit, Driver License or Non-Driver ID Card (MV-44).     

Customers who do not want to visit a DMV office to change their existing ID document will have the option to change their gender designation through an online transaction beginning in July 2022.   

This announcement comes as part of the major advancements in LGBTQ+ equity Governor Hochul fought for and secured in the Enacted Fiscal Year 2023 State Budget.

The Budget includes $13.5 million for the Department of Health to support the LGBTQ+ community and more than doubles annual LGBTQ+ Health and Human Services funding. In addition, the Budget includes legislation requiring state agencies to provide an option for individuals to mark their gender or sex as a non-binary “X” on all state forms that collect gender or sex information.

Agencies are also required to include that information in data collection. The Enacted Budget also enables transgender New Yorkers to change their names or gender designations on marriage certificates without leaving their dead names on them.  

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