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U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres responds to ACT UP NY’s removal of his flag from Fire Island’s Trailblazers Park

gay Democratic congressman Ritchie Torres responds to ACT UP NYC replacing fireisland flag honors recently dead transgender activist Cecilia Gentili instead
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images; Alexa Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

The gay Democratic U.S. congressman stood by his positions and called the protest action “regrettable.”

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GayNew York U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, aDemocrat, expressed his disappointment over the recent actions taken by members of ACT UP NY at Fire Island’s Trailblazers Park. The activist group removed a flag honoring Torres, replacing it with an image of the late activist Cecilia Gentili and a banner for queer Palestinians.

On Sunday, ACT UP NY members protested the decision by the Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association to honor Torres, arguing that Cecilia Gentili, a prominenttransgender activist whodied in February, was more deserving of the recognition. The group also displayed a “Silence = Death” flag with a watermelon, symbolizing its support for Palestine.

ACT UP NYC replaces gay Democratic congressman Ritchie Torres fireisland flag honors recently dead transgender activist Cecilia GentiliAlexa Wilkinson for ACT UP NY

Torres expressed his disappointment over the protest and the removal of his flag, telling The Advocate, “I find it regrettable. The Fire Island Pines Property Association made a decision to honor trailblazers at Trailblazers Park. I was chosen to be among them. Even if you disagree with my view on issues like Israel, there’s no denying that I’m objectively a trailblazer.”

Torres is the first Afro-Latino gay person elected to Congress. He represents New York’s 15th Congressional District, which includes the Bronx.

Torres, 36, highlighted his historic election: “In the history of the United States Congress, there have been about 160 Black members of Congress, and none of them were openly LGBTQ until Mondaire Jones and I were elected in 2020. In the history of the United States Congress, there had been about 130 Latin members of Congress, and none of them were openly LGBTQ until I was elected in 2020. And so it is objectively true that I’ve blazed a trail that was never blazed before.”

The group condemned Torres for his strong support of Israel, arguing that his focus on international issues detracts from addressing the needs of his constituents in the Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts in the country.

Ofir Amir survivor US Rep Ritchie Torres visit Nova festival memorial Reim Israel April 2024Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The protest also included criticism of Torres’s past collaboration with the New York police and former Mayor Bill DeBlasio, while Torres was on the New York City Council, to allegedly weaken aspects of the Right to Know Act, legislation meant to protect New Yorkers during police encounters.

In 2017, he was criticized for a proposal that removed officer identity rules for non-emergency encounters and traffic stops from a bill, which critics argued made it ineffective.

“I found it regrettable that a few agitators who disagree with me on one issue took it upon themselves to desecrate a flag that was raised in my honor,” Torres said. “There should be viewpoint diversity within the LGBTQ community.”

This incident is not the first time ACT UP NY, a group that came to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s for calling attention to the AIDS crisis before state and federal governments took action, has protested lawmakers and other activist groups since the Israel-Hamas War began. In May, ACT UP NY protested outside the 35th GLAAD Media Awards, criticizing the organization for what it says are ties to pro-Israel entities and a lack of support for Palestinians.

The war started after an October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas. That violence left 1,200 people killed and 250 hostages taken, according to Israeli officials, NBC News reports. More than 36,500 people have been killed across Gaza, since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Activist groups like ACT UP NY have been calling attention to conditions in Gaza, demanding a permanent ceasefire.

In a tweet on X, formerlyTwitter, following the flag removal, Torres described ACT UP NY as “anti-Israel activists” and reiterated his commitment to his political point of view. “I am a committed Zionist. The Anti-Israel thought police will not intimidate me from fighting for what I think is right. It will only motivate me even more to keep fighting. And keep fighting I will,” he wrote.

ACT UP NY defended its actions, emphasizing Gentili’s contributions to trans-affirming health care andHIV advocacy and her involvement in calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. “We mounted these two flags to rehabilitate the integrity of Trailblazers Park,” the group said in its press release.

Trailblazers Park, located on Fire Island Pines Harbor, is one of the first landmarks visitors see when arriving by boat. Established in 2020 following recommendations from the Pines Committee on Black Equality, the park was created to make the Pines welcoming and inclusive of a more diverse LGBTQ+ community by honoring trailblazers, especially women, people of color, and trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people whose contributions are often overlooked.

In response to the flag removal, FIPPOA and the Honoring Trailblazers Task Force posted a statement on Instagram reaffirming their decision to honor Torres and condemning the removal of his flag.

“Tearing down exhibits that individuals did not agree with was disrespectful of the artists’ work,” they wrote. “We understand that his political views may not fully align with those of other members of the Pines and LGBTQ+ communities. But the fact that his views may diverge from those held by others does not detract from his historic personal achievements, nor his significant contributions to LGBTQ+ rights and equality.”

The statement acknowledged that LGBTQ+ people “are a diverse community and celebrate all of our various constituencies” and that “ACT UP is part of that community.”

But the statement condemned the removal of Torres’s flag as “an affront to the 16 trailblazers who have spent their lives fighting for our rights.”

In addition to Torres and ACT UP NY, the park’s 2024 honorees include a diverse group of trailblazers such as AIDS activist Richard Burns, trans advocate Andrea Jenkins, and international soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Each honoree is represented by a satin flag designed by contemporary artists as part of its rotating exhibition.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).