On Thursday, following a successful town hall in the Harlem area of Manhattan, New York, Brandon Straka hosted a second #WalkAway town hall in Hell’s Kitchen – this one focused on the LGBT community.
For the uninitiated, the #WalkAway movement was started by Straka after he decided to leave the Democratic Party. On May 26, 2018, the gay former progressive renounced his association with the Democratic Party in a video uploaded to social media with the "WalkAway" hashtag. At the end of the video, Straka asked others to join him. You can read my recent interview with Straka here, and my coverage of the Harlem town hall here.
When I arrived at the event space at approximately 6:45 p.m., there was already a cluster of people waiting for the official opening.
A young gay man named Thomas told me that "the Democratic Party doesn’t represent my values." He added: "As a gay American, I’m expected to vote Democrat, and go along with the other views that they hold – then I don’t. I’m pro-life, personally, and I’m conservative on other issues like immigration."
"I just find that the Democratic Party is a little closed-minded nowadays when you have a different viewpoint," Thomas said. "Not all, but a lot of times I run into ones who just don’t want to talk to me once they hear I’m a Trump supporter."
When I asked what he expected to get out of the event, he said that he hoped for "an open and honest dialogue."
A young person identifying as transgender said that they had been bullied in school "by a lot of Leftists" because they don’t believe in the idea of "non-binary."
After entering the space and getting situated, I overheard someone say that a group of protesters had gathered across the street. I dashed down the stairs. The first thing I noticed when I got outside was that the line of eager attendees seemed to have quadrupled in number, stretching down the block.
Hearing distant chanting, I crossed the street with my camera ready. Upon seeing the group of protesters, I began recording. "No hate! No fear! Fascists are unwelcome here!" they cried out in unison. I asked several protesters if they would be interested in speaking with me, a journalist covering the #WalkAway event, but none would engage. Each person either quickly declined, or simply ignored me and continued their chanting.
One protester, perhaps the leader of the group, stood in front and held a sign that read: "Queer liberation. No fascist assimilation."
I went back inside, and waited for the event to begin.
As tends to happen with controversial events like this, security had to check bags, creating a trickle effect, with attendees entering in small groups. This delayed the start of the program by about twenty minutes. However, by the time the event began, the space was packed.
"It’s happening, b****es," Straka stated before the introductions began. The audience erupted into applause. "They tried," he added, a reference to Manhattan’s LGBT Center pulling the scheduled #WalkAway town hall the week prior following pressure from activists, forcing the team to quickly secure a new venue.
After each of the four panelists — founder Brandon Straka, gay African American Iraq war veteran and political commentator Rob Smith, gay writer and YouTuber Mike Harlow, and transgender YouTuber Blaire White — told their personal #WalkAway stories, they opened the floor to questions from the audience.
Not unlike the Harlem town hall, it seemed as though the majority in attendance at the LGBT town hall were already on board with Straka’s message. Several briefly told their own stories, or thanked the panelists for standing up to the Democratic Party and progressive orthodoxy.
At times, it felt like a support group, with disaffected gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender individuals airing their grievances about a movement and party that has used them only for political gain, but done nothing for them as Americans.
There was an excellent exchange when one attendee claimed that women are oppressed, and despite Straka’s repeated insistence that the attendee back up his claim with evidence, he simply remained silent. After a moment of dead air that was just long enough to be uncomfortable, a woman in the audience chimed in, saying that she didn’t need to be a "victim," and that the attendee who claimed women were oppressed didn’t need to speak for her.
The night was not without controversy, however, as one attendee asked Straka about the $10,000 donation the #WalkAway campaign received from infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones:
Q: When I look at the finances of the #WalkAway campaign, it received $10,000, the largest donation you received ... from a man who’s known for allegations that the Obama administration was poisoning the water to turn people gay...
STRAKA: He’s talking about Alex Jones.
Q: Yeah, that guy. You took $10,000 in start-up funds from him. How am I supposed to believe that Democrats are the real homophobes when you took money from someone who espouses homophobic conspiracy theories?
STRAKA: That’s a great question. ...Alex Jones had me on his show. This was when the #WalkAway campaign was up and running. I was fighting very, very hard to get control of the movement because ... the hashtag became so popular so quickly, and nobody had any idea what "Walk Away" actually was – who started it, what it was about. I was fearful at that time that the hashtag would trend and go away, and then the movement would never happen. So, I was talking to anybody and everybody that I could to try to help people understand what the movement was.
Now, I’m not making any excuses. I like Alex Jones. I think he’s a nice guy, and, by the way, he has a wicked sense of humor, and he was joking when he said a lot of those things that you’re describing right now. These are jokes. Alex Jones is not a homophobic man. He likes me a lot, and in fact, I don’t know why he would give a gay man $10,000 if he hates gays people so much...
The reason Alex Jones gave me $10,000 is because I went on the show and I told him how important I thought it was that before the midterm elections, we have a #WalkAway march on Washington so that gay people, transgender people, white people, black people, all different types of people could come together and march together to show that the #WalkAway campaign, people walking away from the Democratic Party, is for everybody. He thought it was such a good idea that he said, "I think that this March has the potential to stop a civil war from happening, and I’m going to give you $10,000 today, and I encourage everyone listening to match my donation." That’s how I got $10,000 from Alex Jones because he wanted peace in this country.
Straka’s responses led to smatterings of applause and whooping, far from the uproarious cheers and clapping that happened at other moments during the evening. To be fair, Straka quelled the applause after speaking about Jones so that he could quickly answer a second query.
Despite the uncomfortable question, the event bounced back, and ended on a positive beat. Blaire White said that "we’re on the cusp of something different," and Straka stressed that the #WalkAway movement isn’t exclusive: "I don’t care if you’re conservative, liberal, libertarian, or apolitical, #WalkAway is about open discourse."
Approximately 245 people attended the town hall, according to Straka’s team. Like in Harlem the night before, a voter registration table was set up at the exit. Straka later told me that one independent and one Democrat switched their voter affiliation to Republican, and three people registered to vote for the first time.
In a statement regarding the event, Straka said:
The first ever LGBT town hall didn’t come easy, but it was so worth it in the end. We fought hard after being shamed, lied about, slandered, censored, and eventually cancelled our first time around by a mob of ignorant, illogical, reactionary, and hateful Leftists who wish to keep the LGBT community in an intellectual quarantine of misinformation. After acquiring a new venue, the show went on, and exceeded all expectations.
What we found is that this community is ready for a change. LGBT Americans are tired of having toxic liberal ideology forced upon them, and they are tired of feeling bullied, intimidated, and outcast for simply thinking for themselves.
Straka said the events in Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen are only the beginning of a planned nationwide tour.
For a more quality visual representation of the evening, check out the following video created by Straka’s team (Strong Language Warning):