(Produced by: Allison Lau / NY City Lens)
Glen Pannell, 51, is a graphic designer by day and, as it happens, a near dead ringer for former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, our new vice president. And ever since Pence and Donald Trump were elected, Pannell has found a unique way of protesting their reign: He has been dressing up as a sexy version of the vice president and raising money for causes that the real Pence would probably never support.
On a brisk Saturday morning in January, Pannell walked into an Upper West Side Starbucks at the corner of Broadway and 87th Street. From the waist up, his outfit was strictly business: a grey blazer with a blue Oxford shirt, and a red-and-white striped tie. Further down, though, he donned royal blue short-shorts, which he had saved from his high school days in Long Island, where he grew up. On his lapel, a pin read “Mike Hot-Pence Cares.”
Pannell explained that he originally wore the outfit as a Halloween costume. “I wanted to do something fun, creative, and subversive,” he said. The costume was a hit when he went out in Greenwich Village, but he hadn’t planned on pulling it out again.
“And then, tragedy struck,” he said, referring to the night Donald Trump won the electoral college and the United States presidency.
Feeling “helpless and hopeless” after the election, Pannell decided to pull out his sexy Mike Pence costume again. Now, on most Saturdays, Pannell goes out in Times Square as “Mike Hot-Pence” to collect money for causes that he believes are threatened by the new White House Administration’s agenda.
It wasn’t hard to decide which organizations to raise money for, Pannell said. He simply looked at Pence’s political record as the governor of Indiana. The vice-president defunded Planned Parenthood during his time as governor, so Pannell raised money for the women’s health organization. Pence passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, which was widely criticized as being discriminatory to the LGBTQ community, so Pannell raised money for The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people ages 13-24.
And this particular week, in response to the administration’s executive order to ban refugees coming to the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries, Pannell collected money for the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), an organization that provides pro-bono legal work for refugees going through the resettlement process. “It shows such a lack of compassion.” Pannell said of the executive order. “So I’m trying to stand up for refugees. I’m trying to encourage other people to do so as well by donating to the cause.”
Pannell said that this is the first time he has taken to the streets to collect money for such causes. “I wasn’t an extremely political person prior to this election,” he said. “I did do a little bit of work on behalf of different Democratic campaigns. I have always believed in volunteerism. I feel like this is my new way of volunteering.”
Pannell said that “Mike Hot-Pence” gets recognized more and more as his following grows. At the Starbucks on the Upper West Side Saturday morning, which is just around the corner from where he lives, several people came up to speak with him, saying they had seen buzz about him online.
One woman said, “You totally rock! Thank you,” before dropping some money into his collection bucket. “Mike Hot-Pence” has a strong following in the liberal enclave of the Upper West Side, but collecting money in Times Square is a different beast. The tourism hub draws people from all over, including conservative states where the president has a lot of support. This past Saturday, some curious and amused tourists stopped to take photos of Mike Hot-Pence, but hurried off before asking Pannell what he was raising money for.
“Welcome to my world,” Pannell said, with a bemused smile.
Still, some passers-by took the time to donate. One woman from Toronto said, “This is the best thing I’ve seen all day, even all week,” before taking a picture with Pannell and donating money to the International Refugee Assistance Project. Another couple—New Yorkers who were taking a “staycation” in Times Square—said they came out to see Pannell specifically because they had seen on social media that he would be raising money.
Pannell said that even on the tough days, he enjoys collecting money in Times Square because he gets to meet people from all over the world. “It’s just incredible to meet those people and hear their stories, and to know that there are people who want to support these organizations, who want to support these vulnerable people, under a Trump administration,” said Pannell.
So far, Pannell said he has raised just over $11,000 for various organizations through his efforts. He plans on doing it for the foreseeable future.
“Mike Pence has talked about being compassionate, he’s talked about being a Christian, he’s talked about being a unifier,” said Pannell. “I don’t see any of those things happening.”
Glen Pannell, aka “Mike Hot-Pence,” raises money most weekends in Times Square. (Allison Lau / NY City Lens)