Syracuse community members rally at downtown LGBTQ event, protesting ‘religious liberty’ executive order

Codie Yan | Staff Photographer

The protest was organized by the CNY Solidarity Coalition, a local group that has lead several other protests since President Donald Trump's election last November.

More than 100 central New York residents came together for an “emergency rally” organized by the CNY Solidarity Coalition group Thursday evening to protest President Donald Trump’s signing of a “religious liberty” executive order.

The event, called “Stand Up for LGBTQ Rights,” was held in downtown Syracuse’s Hanover Square. The CNY Solidarity Coalition has lead several other protests since President Donald Trump’s election last year.

The group organized the Thursday rally to protest Trump’s signing of an executive order on Thursday which extended political speech to tax-exempt groups like religious organizations.

A previous draft of the executive order allowed federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on their religion, but that provision has since been removed, per The Washington Post.

A common theme for the protesters was the separation of church and state. One person held a sign that read, “Religion has no place in government.”

“This is part of a long-standing agenda on the right, dating back to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, to use religion as a supposed excuse for discrimination,” said Thomas Keck, Michael O. Sawyer Chair of Constitutional Law and Politics at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Keck spoke at the rally alongside Eric van der Vort, an organizer for the CNY Solidarity Coalition, and others who identify as LGBTQ.

People of all ages came to the rally, many wearing stickers that read “Support LGBTQ.” The stickers were handed out by Dana Balter, a member of the CNY Solidarity Coalition. Others carried rainbow umbrellas and over a dozen rally attendees held a gay pride flag, while one man sported a pride flag as a cape.

“That executive order and actions like it that this administration is taking to promote what they’re calling ‘religious liberty’ are still part of a larger agenda to undermine rights of the LGBTQ community and we feel it’s really important to stand up against those actions,” Balter said.

Bob Forbes, proud president of the CNY(Central New York )Pride, a LGBT organization.

Codie Yan, Staff Photographer 

Joshua King — a professional consultant with HIV Stops with Me, a campaign aimed at promoting awareness and support for people with the HIV infection — spoke to the crowd and said there is a need for community advocacy for LGBTQ people.

King said he has not always felt welcome within the LGBTQ community, but it’s important to come out and advocate as both an LGBTQ person and a person of color.

CNY Solidarity Coalition was formed immediately after Trump’s election, Balter said. The group is a grass-roots organization that resists the Trump agenda and supports marginalized communities in central New York that are most at risk from his agenda, Balter added.

Christopher Sengstacken, a student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, said he came to the rally to support the LGBTQ community. Sengstacken said he heard about the rally from the International Socialist Organization at SU.

“Because of Trump and what he just signed… now is a critical time to come together,” Sengstacken said.

Van der Vort, CNY Solidarity Coalition organizer, also lamented during the event that the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act earlier on Thursday. The crowd cheered when they learned Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) — a representative for the 24th Congressional District, which includes Syracuse — voted against the bill. Van der Vort though told the crowd they still need to vote Katko out of office during the midterm elections in 2018.


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