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Diversity

Library director open to hosting it again, though no plans currently in place to do so

Drag Queen Story Hour takes place at Port Jefferson Free Library Sept. 22. Photo by Amanda Schleisner

A Port Jefferson Free Library event aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity achieved its goal for some but also inspired the opposite reaction from others.

The library hosted an event entitled Drag Queen Story Hour Sept. 22, during which a drag queen trained by children’s librarians reads picture books, sings songs, and leads children ages three to eight in craft activities. The event took place at the PJFL and about 100 people attended, according to library Director Tom Donlon. The organization, Drag Queen Story Hour, has chapters across the United States and conducts the events in an effort to “capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real,” according to its website.

I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

— Kyleen Burke

The library promoted the event on its online calendar as “a program that raises awareness of gender diversity, promotes self-acceptance, and builds empathy through an enjoyable literary experience.” During the event in Port Jeff Sept. 22, several protestors stood outside the library holding signs and verbalizing their opposition to exposing children to the message promoted by the event.

Donlon said the board of trustees got the idea from a patron of the library who said they had heard of the events taking place elsewhere.

“We liked it because the program was just about diversity,” he said. Donlon added the goal was not to get into gender or sexuality. He said in the lead up to the event he received many calls both in favor and against, though the program filled up completely in just five days.

“We kind of knew that people were going to be upset,” he said. “I was a little dismayed people saw it as an indoctrination.”

Donlon added he was disappointed people who elected to protest or oppose the event “co-opted” it to promote their own agenda. The social media buzz leading up to the event and the subsequent protests likely led to what Donlon and board President John Grossman each characterized as an unusually large turnout for its monthly public board meeting at the library Sept. 24, during which several community members spoke in favor of and against the program.

“I don’t know a lot about living in this community as an adult,” said Kyleen Burke, a 2008 graduate of Port Jeff schools who said she has just recently moved back to the community as an adult. “I was thrilled to learn about this program because going to school in Port Jeff schools, it was a really small district, and I watched kids who diverted from the norm in any way get bullied and not feel represented here unfortunately, even though this is, in large part a really loving, really beautiful place to grow up. So embracing this opportunity totally blew my mind of what this community could be, and represents just a tremendous opportunity to continue to embrace every single kid, and to make this a welcoming space despite what the norms might be. So thank you for wading into this water and for standing up for unpopular people. I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

Others stressed their concerns about the event didn’t come from a place of hate or discrimination.

“I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

— Ruben Cruzate

Ruben Cruzate, who said he participated in the protests, said his picture and contact information had been circulated on social media, leading to harassment and attacks, he said.

“The reason I’m here is because I’ve never experienced such hate and intolerance,” he said, attributing his experience following the protests to members of the LGBTQ+ community. “I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

Children’s librarian Margaret Smith said during the meeting the event was a “joyful” occasion featuring sing-alongs and stories about inclusion.

“Thank you for your courage and for sticking with this program that was proposed, investigated and was planned,” she said.

Smith and Donlon each said the library plans to hold “story hour” events with people from other walks of life on a monthly basis going forward. While no date has been set, Donlon said the library is open to hosting Drag Queen Story Hour again if the community is interested.

This post was updated Sept. 25 to remove mention of Ruben Cruzate as a resident of Port Jeff. This post was updated Sept. 26 to remove a quote from Theresa Bendel at her request.

Stony Brook University, President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. MD

By Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., MD

At Stony Brook University, we’re proud to be a diverse community of scholars, researchers, educators and professionals representing many races, ethnicities, ages, genders, religions, abilities, socioeconomic levels, sexual orientations and veteran status.

In consideration of persistent issues of inequality in our society, Stony Brook University is implementing a new Plan for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, which will build on successes and address opportunities to take us to the next level in enhancing student, faculty and staff diversity and building an inclusive community.

Involving the campus community was key in developing a comprehensive plan, which embraces SUNY’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy in aspiring to be part of the most inclusive state university system in the country. In March, Stony Brook students, faculty and staff were invited to view a draft of the plan and share feedback. Their thoughtful comments and suggestions were received, reviewed and included, where possible, prior to releasing this plan.

While people celebrated some or all of their experiences at the University, many also recommended ways to improve how we embrace our diversity to create and maintain a welcoming environment on campus. Opportunities raised by all groups encompassed the broad areas of hiring, student enrollment and the daily campus experience.

The plan has four overarching goals: improve the diversity of the Stony Brook Community through enhanced recruitment and retention; expand educational, research, healthcare and other efforts to ensure that Stony Brook students have the ability to thrive as members of the campus community and as global citizens in a diverse society; support the development of a campus climate that values diversity, equity and inclusion in a way that promotes the ability of members of the community to thrive and to achieve their individual goals; and establish a culture of accountability and assessment around diversity and inclusion initiatives and policies.

Each goal will be achieved through a variety of initiatives and action items identified specifically in the plan, and highlights of data on our students and employees provide an overview of where we are today, giving us the ability to understand and monitor progress toward those goals. I invite you to view Stony Brook University’s new Plan for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at stonybrook.edu/diversityplan.

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National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when the country pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic-Americans who have influenced our society, ended on Oct. 15. But that doesn’t mean Long Island’s North Shore should stop thinking about this growing demographic.

There’s more we can do as a region to better accommodate and embrace Hispanic-Americans who help diversify our neighborhoods and are a huge economic driver on the Island. According to a 2007 research report, prepared for the Long Island social activism nonprofit, Hagedorn Foundation, Hispanic residents add nearly $5.7 billion to total Long Island output as a result of their consumer spending, and Hispanic employment continues to grow rapidly. Those numbers can only have grown in the last several years since the report was published — and community tensions have grown along with them.

Tensions between Hispanic residents and police officers have been well documented.

Earlier this year, a class action lawsuit by a group of Latinos alleged the Suffolk County Police Department targeted them. The group claimed several officers robbed them or issued them traffic citations in unfounded, race-based stops. There has also been an outcry from Huntington Station residents, many of them Hispanic, who say they don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods or protected by police.

And there have been instances of Hispanic people being made to feel marginalized by their own neighbors.

Police should continue to cultivate a stronger relationship with the Island’s Hispanic communities by involving youth and hosting local programs, like forums, where residents can discuss local issues or share concerns. Non-Hispanic residents should also do their part to call out prejudice when they see it, and encourage more Hispanic neighbors to join their various community groups.

We should strive to include Hispanics as we steer Long Island toward its future, and we should do it because it’s necessary, not just because of some national holiday prompt.

The annual Huntington Awareness Day Parade and Fair kicked off on Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m. The parade honored a number of local individuals. Ed Brady, longtime commander of the Suffolk County Police Department’s 2nd Precinct who retired earlier this year, served as the event’s grand marshal. Huntington Awareness Day has become an annual tradition, with thousands of people turning out to celebrate the community’s unity, diversity and solidarity.