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An apartment party in New York City sparked online outrage earlier this week after videos emerged on social media of the DJ'ed fete, in which about 30 guests were seen dancing, drinking, and violating social distancing guidelines without masks.
The clips were initially posted as an Instagram Story by gay porn star Ian Frost, and later disseminated on Twitter by gay influencers Phillip Henry and Yashar Ali. "People are f*cking dying left and right and the gays are having full on house parties on a Monday night in NYC. JAIL," Henry wrote in the initial caption. Ali called it "reckless."
Many of the guests, identified by their handles by social media sleuths, took down their accounts in response to the backlash that ensued. As of Thursday, Henry's thread has filled up with hundreds of posts shaming the "rona rave" attendees for their behavior and accusing them of drug use in addition to the violation of New York State's Pause Plan.
Chris Weaver, a past contestant on The Voice also known by his drag persona Nedra Belle, decided not to delete his account after he was called out for attending the event. Instead, Weaver released a video on Facebook Wednesday apologizing for his behavior and also commenting on the shaming itself.
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Weaver, out of drag and with a conciliatory tone, began his message with gratitude for those working to save lives during the pandemic. "I'm grateful for every nurse, every doctor, everybody on the front lines, every essential. Thank you. Thank you for what you do. I don't take it lightly," he said.
Weaver shared the personal impact of COVID-19; he lost a 31-year-old cousin to the virus last week. And his goal in attending the event, he said, was not to worsen the epidemic. "I didn't go out with the intent to hurt anyone ... to spread the virus," he said. "That's not what I did. That's not when I plan I'm doing. That's not who I am."
Weaver summarized the event, its backlash, and the "call for some of us who were involved to be canceled."
"I am a human," he said. "I make mistakes just like you make mistakes. It's life. I fully understand that I have to deal with the repercussions of what I did, and it's just a reality that we have to face. But I won't be scared or ran into a hole or a box because you don't agree. Was it dumb? Yes, it was. If I had to do it all over again, would I have attended the event? I would have not."
Weaver went on to call out cancel culture in the gay community more broadly, a reference to the system where those who violate norms or codes are shamed on social media, sometimes with the intent of harming an individual professionally. Some guests of the Winter Party, a circuit party fundraiser thrown by the National LGBTQ Task Force in March, experienced a similar backlash, although the event was held just prior to the formal lockdown of states. Several died of COVID-19 complications after attending, although it isn't known if they contracted the virus at the party or elsewhere.
"Let me tell you something about the gay community, the LGBTQ+ community. ... What we do is we are so good at building each other up. And we're even better at tearing each other down," Weaver said. "The problem with that is, we can drag and drag and drag folks all day and all night, but where's the chance for redemption? ... We don't give that."
"For those who you have attacked, please know that your action causes reaction. Think about the person on the other side," he said, adding, "If you want to cancel me, cancel me. But I'm going to press on and do what I do."
Weaver then finished the video with the performance of a song, "Let There Be Peace on Earth."
According to the March order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to curb the spread of the health crisis, "Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time." Although some states have eased restrictions, New York, an epicenter of the outbreak, remains on lockdown. Violators can be fined up to $1,000.
And even in states that have opened up, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines still include the use of a face mask, social distancing of at least six feet from others, and frequent handwashing with soap and water.