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Protest

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Holding coat hangers and signs high above their heads, nearly 20 protesters stood at the corner of Nesconset Highway and Route 112 shouting “Keep your hands off our bodies,” and “We won’t go back.”

The locals, organized by the North Shore Peace group, came out in protest decrying several states’ moves to severely restrict abortion, including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri. In Alabama’s case, abortion will be restricted to only in cases that the woman’s health is in danger. It also restricts abortion for people who are victims of rape, and doctors who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison.

The laws have largely been seen as attempts to move abortion to the plate of the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes that landmark case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions, would be overturned.

Protesters held coat hangers high above their heads to symbolize the instrument used when abortions were illegal to perform
“backroom” unsanitary abortions, often out of desperation.

“I’m speechless, I just don’t know what to say anymore,” said Myrna Gordon, a protest organizer.

One protester, Janet Sklar, had a charm necklace that she plucked out of her shirt and laid over her sign. One charm, a coat hanger, had been on that necklace for close to 40 years.

“We were marching in the ʼ70s for this, and look how far we haven’t come,” she said. 

Northport residents protest LIPA's ongoing lawsuit with the Town of Huntington. Photo by Donna Deedy

By Donna Deedy

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, more than 100 residents of all ages, including many families with young children and pets, attended another public rally against Long Island Power Authority. At one point, their chant filled Cow Harbor Park in Northport village where they gathered April 7. 

“Stop LIPA now,” they repeated in protest.  

The power authority, a quasi-governmental state agency, is suing the Town of Huntington to reduce its $82 million property tax burden by 90 percent. LIPA, since the state’s public bailout of LILCO, and its failed Shoreham nuclear power plant project, has been paying the property taxes for power stations now owned by National Grid.  

Northport power plant. File photo

Protest organizer Paul Darrigo formed a Facebook advocacy group called Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA in mid-March, whose membership now totals more than 3,000 people. His group is concerned that if LIPA is successful it would devastate the Northport-East Northport school district, which currently receives $54 million annually from LIPA.

Northport village residents Kathleen and James Wansor have two very young children and attended the rally to learn more about the situation. Funding for education is important to the young family.

“It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t seem fair for us to all of a sudden see increases in our taxes,” Wansor said. 

Darrigo’s group is also reaching out to people across Long Island. 

“I want to coordinate our efforts with the residents of Island Park, whose school district is also under assault due to LIPA’s tax certiorari filed in Nassau County,” he said. “The objective is to communicate with LIPA and our elected officials with a consistent message and reiterate a ‘strength in numbers’ mantra.” 

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) was among the elected officials who addressed the Northport crowd. He’s currently calling for LIPA reforms. 

“LIPA is a runaway authority that is not serving the public’s interest with their frivolous lawsuit. As I’ve said to LIPA, LIPA should uphold the promise that was made to my constituents and that the tax certiorari challenge should be dropped. Anything short of that would be detrimental to the vitality of the communities that I serve and would have a direct impact on their ability to provide indispensable programs and services.”

“The objective is to communicate with LIPA and our elected officials with a consistent message and reiterate a ‘strength in numbers’ mantra.”

— Paul Darrigo

But elected officials on different levels of government lack a firm position on the issue. Both County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) offered similar public comments on the LIPA tax lawsuit against Huntington.

“While we do not comment on pending litigation, we are monitoring the situation closely,” said Jordan Levine, deputy communications director for energy and the environment with the office of the governor. “It is our hope that LIPA and the Town of Huntington can reach a mutually beneficial agreement that is fair and beneficial to all parties.” 

Northport Village Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe is particularly critical of the state’s position. 

“The governor better wake up and jump in on this,” he said. “People are mad.” 

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Three days after President Donald Trump (R) declared a national emergency to build a wall on the United States-Mexico border, protesters in Port Jefferson Station held aloft a large sheet with four words painted on it, “Trump is the emergency.”

The North Shore Peace Group, a local activist organization, galvanized close to 50 people to protest Feb. 18, despite cold winter winds, about Trump’s Feb. 15 announcement he would declare a national emergency in order to build 234 miles of physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border. The total funds freed up from the national emergency and other measure will equal up to $8 billion, more than the originally proposed $5.7 million Trump had previously asked from Congress. 

Trump is “actually giving a demonstration of how a unilateral president — an imperial presidency is emerging — he’s now overriding Congress’ constitutional mandate to control the purse strings,” said peace group member Bill McNulty.

Standing at the corner of state routes 112 and 347, which has been dubbed by other left-leaning activists as Resistance Corner, the protesters chanted and asked passing cars to honk in support.

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and peace group member, said there are other national issues which are better suited for the moniker “national emergency.”

“With all the things that could be an emergency, think about all the people every day who die from gun violence.” Gordon said. “Down at the border people need help. Instead it’s a wall that people will either tunnel under — they
already have — or find a way to go over.” 

Some activists said the president calling the ongoing illegal migration across the southern border a national emergency opens up the doors for future presidents to declare national emergencies for agenda items. While activist Rosemary Maffei said this could mean, in the case of a Democratic president, national emergencies to deal with gun violence or climate change, it could also set precedent for a Republican president could call national disasters on practically any agenda.

McNulty said the ongoing illicit immigration across the southern border is due to the past and continuing foreign policy of the U.S.

“Our policies in Central and South America have caused the destabilization of country after country, including overriding democratic elections,” McNulty said. “Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, these are the very countries that have been negatively impacted by American intervention.”

The peace group has hosted many pop-up protests in Port Jefferson and the Three Village area since the inauguration of the 45th president, enough to lose count. Gordon said she expects they will host many more in the future.

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Students applaud as their peers deliver speeches during the Port Jeff Station March for our Lives March 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

The 1980s rock band White Lion said it best when they sang: “When the children cry let them know we tried, ’cause when the children sing then the new world begins.”

Children across the country ensured their cries were heard March 24 when millions of them took to the streets to call for implementation of stricter gun control laws as part of hundreds of March for Our Lives rallies. Now we have a challenge for them and the parents and grandparents who joined them — keep the momentum.

The rallies were inspired by the battle cries of students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. For centuries, protesting has been a popular way to get politicians to pay attention, but those rallying calls need to be followed by action in order to get things done. We surmise many if not most of the student marchers understand this is just beginning, like Avalon Fenster, one of the organizers of the March 24 rally in Huntington.

“In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority,” Fenster said.

It’s something Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman, Matt Pifko and Gavin Barrett also get. These students helped establish a station in their high school where their peers can get assistance in writing letters to their representatives. Letter writing, emailing and calling the offices of elected officials is a vital process to let legislators know what their constituents want and need.

However, writing to a congressman is not the end of the line either if true change is the students’ goal. All the letters and phone calls in the world mean nothing if a person isn’t registered to vote. The March for Our Lives website, www.marchforourlives.com, has set up a form to make it easier for voters to register. It’s a rite of passage and a civic responsibility when a teen turns 18.  High school students who are heading off to college in the fall need to also familiarize themselves and their peers with the process of obtaining and
submitting an absentee ballot. If you are registered to vote in Setauket but go to school at SUNY Cortland, unless you’re driving home on the morning of Nov. 6, an absentee ballot is your only option.

Simply showing up to fill out a ballot is not enough either. People of all ages need to ask themselves what matters most to them, and then see how their representatives in the U. S. Senate, House of Representatives and state positions vote on issues.

There’s one more step 18-year-old marchers need to keep on the table as well. If you feel you and your community are not being represented effectively by those in power, consider running for office, or at least help those who represent your interests get elected. That’s what 24-year-old Josh Lafazan did last November, and he became Nassau County’s youngest legislator. For a few political offices — including New York State senator and assemblyperson — the minimum age requirement is 18 years old. To serve in the federal government, you must be at least 25 years old.

Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, is a living embodiment of what is possible. He recently dropped out of his race after receiving criticism for remarks he made on Twitter about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, including calling Emma Gonzalez, who has been in the forefront of the movement, a “skinhead lesbian.” He had been running unopposed, but after he made the comment, challengers sprung up from both parties, including a 28-year-old Democrat who had never considered seeking political office before.

We’ve heard the children’s cries. Now the real work begins.

Ward Melville's graduation ceremony will look a little different this year. File photo

Things will look a little different at Ward Melville High School’s graduation ceremony this year.

Gone now are the separate green and gold gowns for males and females. Replacing them, are gender-neutral green ones with gold stoles that feature the high school emblem, breaking the school’s half-century commencement tradition.

“This year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Three Village Central School District, we are focusing on honoring the traditions of the past, while building new traditions for our future,” Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum wrote in a letter posted on the school district’s website March 2.

The letter came after nearly 100 students participated in a walkout March 1, protesting the news of even the possibility of a color change.

One of the factors considered in making the decision was to meet the concerns of transgender and gender-fluid students.

“In addition to creating a unified senior class, it is our hope that creating a unifying color scheme will eliminate the anxiety that is caused by forcing a young adult to wear a gown that labels them differently than how they identify,” Baum wrote in the letter. “This decision also reflects the progressive nature of our district, our high school and our community. Through the use of the unified gowns, we are no longer separating our students by gender; rather, we will be promoting a more inclusive practice at graduation.”

News of the gown change circulated on social media Feb. 28, prompting a number of students to start petitions and participate in the walkout.

Seniors Brianna LaSita, Charlotte Schmidt and Isabelle Antos were motivated to start a petition on Change.org to support same-colored gowns. The trio sent a joint statement to The Village Times Herald to explain their motive.

“We created our petition in response to the petition that was made in support of keeping the traditional colored gowns,” the three wrote. “As it gained supporters and hateful comments, we decided we needed to support our class and protect our LGBTQA+ peers from the hateful rhetoric featured on signs during the walkout.”

Some of the signs held by students had slogans like “Straight Lives Matter” and “Don’t Tread On Me.”

David Kilmnick, CEO of the LGBT Network, a Long Island-based nonprofit, said the organization heard about the debate after the walkout. He said a few students from the school emailed his group seeking help, claiming they heard anti-transgender rhetoric spewed from students and teachers.

“Through the use of the unified gowns, we are no longer separating our students by gender; rather, we will be promoting a more inclusive practice at graduation.”

— Principal Alan Baum

The CEO said the decision to have one gown color solves the issue of transgender children feeling a sense of anxiety when it comes to choosing a color. He said when making such a decision, most feel that if they choose the color that represents their true identity, they’ll risk harassment from their peers. If they don’t choose the color, they’re “not feeling whole in who they are.”

“This is not as simple as black and white, or even about green and gold anymore — this fair debate over tradition has devolved into an excuse to promote transphobic hate speech,” the petitioner organizers wrote. “That is not what our community is about.”

As of March 8, their petition to support the same colored gowns had almost 700 signatures. One petitioner wrote on the site: “I would be so grateful if we can all leave Ward Melville more loving and empathetic individuals, we should always be working to ensure that all of our class feels comfortable every day but especially a day as special as graduation.”

A senior at the high school, who asked to remain anonymous, said many students were disappointed by the color change, especially after having already had their senior portraits taken adhering to the now-former color tradition. The school rectified the problem by notifying parents March 7 that students could retake their graduation photos at no additional cost.

According to the student, it was felt the gown change was made by the administration after consulting with only a few students.

The senior wrote that even though a portion of the student body felt the change was only based on the needs of transgender students, those upset were not discriminating against anyone, but were just hoping to continue tradition.

“My issue, and the issue that my peers that participated in a walkout protest during class today share, is that a choice is being made that benefits a minute minority of people, not the majority,” the student said. “This is an underlying theme that is playing out across the country. Lawmakers, educators and school administrators are making changes based on what a small population wants, not what the majority of the school or state or the entire nation feels is right.”

Ward Melville’s old cap and gowns were green for boys and yellow for girls. File photo by Bob O’Rourk

Jennifer Segui, who is the mother of two children at W.S. Mount Elementary School, said she was disappointed when she read a number of negative reactions on social media after the decision.

“It would have been so beautiful if the idea of the new graduation gowns had been embraced by all students and parents from the beginning,” Segui said. “Sadly, that didn’t happen. Hopefully, people can learn and move forward.”

But the anonymous student said those who participated in the protest felt as though the administration did not listen to opinions from most of the students when making the decision.

“Instead of listening to our voices, our principal brought our protest in the auditorium, and basically stifled our statements in what was a clear attempt to silence us,” the student said. “It is clear, to me at least, that the school has no intention of doing what is right. They would rather follow in popular culture than face the fact that what they are doing is blatantly unfair. Again, I carry no prejudice. I speak with the basic ideal of a democratic republic that what is done should be decided by the majority.”

Ward Melville isn’t the first Long Island school to break tradition, following in the footsteps of Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington and Island Trees High School in Levittown. Kilmnick said he feels the administration made a bold move in the right direction.

“I think we’re seeing a movement,” Kilmnick said. “Even though Ward Melville is the third school on Long Island to do this, I think we’ll see a lot more on Long Island. And we’re certainly seeing schools across the country getting rid of the separate colored gowns because they’re not inclusive for all students. What the change does, in fact, is let everyone in Ward Melville wear green and gold, from looking at the new gown, and it allows the entire school to move forward as one community, and to celebrate graduation in a safe, inclusive manner — and make graduation celebratory for all.”

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Watch out, Madison Avenue! People everywhere are gunning for your jobs.

Well, maybe people don’t want advertising and marketing jobs, but they do want to express themselves in ways guaranteed by the Constitution. How could the Founding Fathers have known that the war with words, on words and of words would require an ability of people on both sides to understand that each of them has a right to speak?

The Women’s March, the day after the inauguration, was a spectacle. People from around the nation, indeed the world, took considerable time to write, design and share signs about any and every issue important to them.

People are searching for the words to share their convictions.

One sign read, “Without Hermione, Harry would have died,” referring to the brilliant friend of Harry Potter whose smarts helped Harry survive despite numerous murderous attempts by Voldemort.

Another sign suggested, “So bad, even introverts are here.”

The president’s hair, a subject for television discussion well before the commander in chief left for the White House, made it onto several signs, with “We shall overcomb,” offering one of many toupee moments.

Whether the Trump administration recognizes or addresses it, we are a nation divided and, no, that’s not a statement about the size of the crowd at the inauguration. Who cares? If not a single person attended the inauguration, do you know what we would be calling Donald Trump? President.

I understand that and so do all those people writing signs, discussing the future direction of the country and arguing over the internet. I know Trump and his team seem disillusioned with the media. The president can’t stand the way he’s covered, but plenty of past presidents no doubt could relate to his discomfort.

Trump has tried to ostracize the media, going straight to the people with his creatively spelled Twitter messages.

One woman used Trump’s penchant for direct messages with a sign saying, “Tweet women with respect.”

Trump continues to make the argument about the number of people who voted for him. Can someone please tell him he won the election?

By walking side-by-side in marches, people aren’t sitting comfortably at home typing angry computer messages: They’re sharing their views and are traveling to see people “in real life.”

This is not — to borrow from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” — “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” These are people sharing a message they hope others and, in particular, the administration, hears and understands.

Trump didn’t get to the White House propelled by the hopes of these sign makers. He won the votes of millions who believed in him.

He wants to make America great again. He and his voters have red hats to prove it. That’s great and maybe the sale of red hats will be sufficient to create more jobs, just as his office has increased the sale of poster boards, crayons, markers and block-lettering kits through these marches.

No doubt, Trump, his team and many other Americans will come up with great slogans and catchy one-liners to offset the marchers’ messages.

What will bring us together? Maybe there’ll be a moment similar to the one in the movie “Miracle,” which was about the improbable Olympics victory by the United States hockey team at Lake Placid in 1980. As these players bonded, they learned that they weren’t playing for their schools but, rather, were representing their country.

The Founding Fathers may have created a slogan that’s hard to top: We the People.

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Protestors hold up signs along Main Street in Smithtown on Saturday in protest of the Senate failing to vote on GENDA. Photo from Juli Grey-Owens

Activists took to the Smithtown office of state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) over the weekend to express their disappointment with the legislature’s failure to pass a state civil rights bill for the transgender community.

GENDA, also known as the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, would have helped restrict discrimination against transgender citizens in areas of housing, employment or public access, which could include things like restaurants or cab rides. The bill, which made it through the state Assembly for nine years straight, died in the Senate when the legislative session ended last week, spurring the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition to protest outside Flanagan’s office on Saturday.

“The transgender community has again been prevented from receiving the basic protections all New Yorkers enjoy” said Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition. “In the past, Sen. Flanagan had said he supported this bill to protect his transgender constituents, but now that he has the power to finally bring the bill to the floor for a vote, he seems to have forgotten his commitment to us.”

The Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition is a not-for-profit social justice organization dedicated to advancing the equality of transgender people through advocacy, teaching and empowerment. The group hosted a community forum back in March alongside other activist organizations calling for the Senate to step up and pass the legislation, or at the very least, move the conversation forward.

At that time, Flanagan spokesman Scott Reif said the Senate majority leader “prides himself on being open and transparent,” adding that Flanagan was listening.

“The senator routinely meets with all groups, as he has done for 30 years, throughout his entire public career, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not,” Reif said in an email to TBR News Media in March. “The decision to take a meeting is never influenced by a group’s position on an issue; it is dictated solely by what his schedule will allow.”

Grey-Owens said the transgender community was a constant target of discrimination, and Saturday’s demonstration came less than one week after a gunman opened fire at a gay club in Florida, murdering 49 patrons, in what quickly became the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history.

“The National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that 26 percent of trans people lost a job due to bias, 50 percent were harassed on the job, 20 percent were evicted or denied housing, and 78 percent of trans students were harassed or assaulted,” Grey-Owens said. “We will continue to fight for our community and the rights that are being denied us.”

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If there is but one positive to come out of the contentious primary season for both the Democratic and Republican nominations for U.S. president, it has been a spotlight on the issue of money in politics.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made “political contributions from the millionaire and billionaire class” a cornerstone target of his campaign, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been forced to respond to her clocking in millions of dollars in compensation for speeches she had given to Wall Street bankers and others while not holding public office. On the Republican side, presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump made it a public point of pride that he was not accepting money from other corporate bigwigs, but instead was self-funded or relying on small grassroots contributions.

Clearly, the electorate is sensitive to big money’s influence on politics. Ask anybody on the street if they feel that gigantic chunks of money are perverting American democracy and, chances are, they will agree with you. And here we are.

New York State watchdogs stood in front of the Smithtown office of state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) on Tuesday to make some noise over his stance on the Senate Republican Campaign and Housekeeping committees accepting some $16 million in contributions, thanks to a loophole in campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies to use a much higher contribution limit than corporations do. With the clock ticking before the legislative session comes to a close on June 16, groups like MoveOn.org and Common Cause New York called on Flanagan and his Republican colleagues who control the Senate to bring a bill to a vote that would close that loophole.

Flanagan did not speak at the press conference, but he did say in a statement that the legislation to close the loophole was a “red herring,” and instead said the state had bigger fish to fry if it was serious about addressing campaign finance reform, like addressing straw donors, for example.

We agree that this LLC loophole is not the end-all solution to campaign finance reform, but it is certainly a piece of it.

There is no doubt about the influence money has on elections and, later on, the votes of those who are elected. Perhaps the problem is so deeply rooted that holding press conferences like the one on Tuesday ends up being more like preaching to the choir than anything else. Some may go into office wanting to remain completely independent, but find that difficult under the pressure of the way our campaign contribution system works.

Whatever it may be, though, We the People have to find ways to unite with bigger numbers behind a common cause if we expect our elected leaders to rehabilitate their addiction to political money.

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Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Members of the New York State Nurses Association had drivers honking their horns near St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson on Friday, as picketers called for increased staffing of nurses.

Between 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 8, nurses and supporters marched and chanted outside the hospital to spread awareness of their cause. According to the nurses’ association members, some nurses tend to 10 or more patients and those working in St. Charles’ Intensive Care Unit are exceeding what they call a safe limit of one to two patients per nurse.

Increased staffing would help nurses devote more time to their patients, according to group members, which is better for the patient.

Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Nancy Joly, the New York State Nurses Association’s deputy director, said the organization has data showing that when ICU nurses have more than two patients “the chances of death are skyrocketed.”

The picketing comes as the St. Charles nurses’ union is negotiating with the hospital on a new contract, after the previous one expired in March 2015.

According to a statement from the hospital, the facility bases staffing guidelines on various factors, including when nurses call in sick, how much nursing care a patient needs, the number of patients who need care and guidelines set in previous union contracts.

Tracy Kosciuk, a St. Charles nurse of 27 years and president of the state nurses’ association’s executive committee for St. Charles nurses, said when they have too many patients, it’s difficult for nurses to give their “100 percent” and care for each patient, including teaching the patient and their family about their health.

“Unfortunately the mentality … nowadays in the industry is [that] all hospitals are short-staffed,” Kosciuk said. “That’s not acceptable to have that mindset.”

But St. Charles said the nurses and the hospital share the same goal of providing their patients with high-quality care. While the group has a right to picket, according to the hospital statement, it would prefer to discuss the nurses’ contract in a formal meeting.

“St. Charles remains committed to negotiating a fair contract … that supports our caregivers and the communities we serve,” the hospital said. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the union.”

Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Stony Brook resident Barbara Cea was among the nurses chanting outside St. Charles and celebrating when drivers honked their horns in solidarity. She has worked at the hospital for the past 32 years.

“They seem to be ignoring our pleas to increase the nurse-to-patient ratio so that we could provide adequate and safe care, which is more and more important,” Cea said. “We have to keep the nurses at the bedside.”

Cea supported the hospital’s statement that it’s trying to establish fair contracts with appropriate staffing guidelines, but said it’s been a slow process.

“Nobody knows when they’re going to end up in the hospital,” Joly said. “A lot of people are worried about their community hospitals being well-staffed. You really need to have good staffing everywhere.”

Juli Grey-Owens chants with residents at the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The crowd’s chants were loud and in unison: “Trans lives matter. Pass GENDA now.”

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of The Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, joined with members of the Long Island DREAM Coalition, the Bus Riders’ Union, SEPA Mujer and the Move to Amend Coalition and other organizations on Thursday, March 17, at the Setauket Presbyterian Church to demand better transparency and representation from state Sen. John Flanagan (R- East Northport).

While the coalitions had different agendas, they all sought to deliver a message to Flanagan with hopes of sparking a serious conversation on transgender rights, public transportation issues, undocumented students and families, isolated confinement and other concerns they argued were being ignored on the state level of government.

“Right now, Long Islanders — everyday, hardworking Long Islanders — are not being seen as a priority in the state, nor by our own state representative,” said Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union.

Last year, Suffolk County made steps to cut various bus schedules because of a lack of state funding. Watkins-Lopez said that Sen. Philip Boyle (R-East Islip) supported getting additional transit funds, and took steps to establish a piece of legislation when former state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was working in the Senate.

Currently, transgender individuals don’t have any laws prohibiting transgender discrimination in the workplace, housing and more.

After Skelos left office because of his own legal troubles, people like Grey-Owens hoped the Senate would finally pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which was introduced in 2003 as a means of outlawing discrimination in New York State based on gender identity or expression.

The state Assembly passed the bill eight years in a row, but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. Grey-Owens said she hoped Flanagan would bring the bill for a vote when he became Senate majority leader.

According to Grey-Owens, Flanagan said he would support the bill in 2014 if it came to the floor for a vote.

“He refuses to bring the bill to the floor and transgender New Yorkers are forced to wait another year to possibly receive the same rights that all New Yorkers enjoy,” Grey-Owens said during the meeting.

Although Flanagan was unable to make the meeting, his spokesman Scott Reif said the Senate majority leader “prides himself on being open and transparent.” He added that Flanagan’s absence wasn’t personal.

“The senator routinely meets with all groups, as he has done for 30 years throughout his entire public career, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not,” Reif said in an email. “The decision to take a meeting is never influenced by a group’s position on an issue, it is dictated solely by what his schedule will allow.”

Watkins-Lopez expressed disappointment with Flanagan’s absence and said it was imperative for state officials to meet with their constituents and acknowledge their concerns.

“We pay taxes, we pay their salaries. We’re their bosses and they need to remember that,” Watkins-Lopez said after the meeting. “They’re public servants. Serve the public not yourself.”

Flanagan’s absence at the meeting was also disappointing for Dulce Rojas, community organizer for SEPA Mujer. The nonprofit organization aims to help Latina immigrants and representatives demanded that Flanagan address their concerns.

Rojas said that human trafficking is prevalent in the area. Rojas said she “wanted to ask him to start thinking about all the residents on Long Island.”

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