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Gay Rights

A scene from Huntington's Pride Parade. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

By Victoria Espinoza

Today I woke up with a stronger determination than ever to be an ally. An ally to the LGBTQ community, to the Black Lives Matter community, to the Muslim community, the Hispanic community and every other community that woke up this morning feeling scared of the future.

I had gay friends and relatives reach out to me last night as the results were becoming clearer, wondering if they’ll still be able to get married, to adopt children, to feel equal. They need to know they still have support behind them.

As much as those fears made me want to cry and shut down, the feeling of making sure they knew I was on their side and ready to fight for them was stronger.

But then came the embarrassment.

It is unacceptable to me that it took Donald Trump becoming president to feel this strongly about being the loudest ally I can for these communities. It took this dark of a cloud for me to see the light and promise to support like I never have before.

Voting against him clearly was not enough. Crying out and insulting the people who did vote for him isn’t either.

America has been called the great experiment. My God, does that feel accurate today more than ever. We need to keep this experiment moving in the right direction with inclusiveness. This is our country; we do not stop calling ourselves American because we disagree with our new leader.

That’s when we lose.

Those, like me, who feel despair after last night’s results can still win. Not can — we must. It has never been more crucial to stand up for those who have felt oppressed during this election cycle. If we don’t lend our voice to those who feel voiceless, then we are truly going backwards in this country.

Every American has the right to choose their presidential candidate. Almost every point of view is understandable from a certain angle, once you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the communities today who are terrified of a Trump administration. They are just as American as those who voted for him. They voted differently, but they accept the results and the new leader of this country.

And the rest of the country damn well better do the same for them, as an American.

With liberty and justice for all — not just pretty words, but a founding principle.

Victoria Espinoza is the editor of the Times of Huntington, Northport & East Northport and the Times of Smithtown.

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Paul Garske addresses the Rocky Point Board of Education about the accommodations for transgender students. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After dealing with the outcome of the defeated $20.4 million maintenance bond vote, the Rocky Point Board of Education is faced with another issue to tackle — accommodating transgender or gender-nonconforming students, particularly when it comes to bathrooms and locker rooms.

Although the board tabled the issue during its Oct. 26 meeting, that didn’t stop parents from voicing their concerns. The issue, to parents, is not that these students use the bathrooms or locker rooms they identify with, it’s the fact that these students have not made the full transition to the sex they identify with.

Paul Garske, a father of four, is one of several parents who are not in favor of the school district’s current practice, saying that it confuses younger children and allows for an increase in sexual harassment within the institutions. Garske also mentioned that privacy is difficult to maintain in a locker room setting as students will or may change in front of one another.

“Kids are taught about the difference between boys and girls and privacy,” he said. “When you take that privacy away, it defeats what parents are teaching their children.”

Garske said he has no issue with transgender or gender-nonconforming students, and wouldn’t mind if these students completed their transition into the sex they identified with. He said kids prefer they share a bathroom or locker room with students who have the same genitalia, and suggested that such students utilize the handicapped bathrooms. When he contacted the assistant principal, he was informed that the school’s accommodations for these students was part of the law.

The New York State Education Department issued guidance to school districts to help keep their students safe and prevent discrimination of transgender or gender nonconforming students. The document suggests that a school accepts a student’s assertion regarding their gender identity. While it doesn’t offer many specific means of protecting these children, the document does say “prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match his gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX.”

Jen Carlson, another local parent, said regardless of how a student identifies, kids develop differently according to their biological sex. During the Oct. 26 meeting, a further parent stated that residents should keep in mind that these transgender students “are children, and everyone here in this community is also part of keeping those children safe — whether you agree with it or you disagree with it.”

The resident continued addressing the board and those who attended the meeting.

“I hope the school board does the right thing and keeps those children safe,” she said. “If they identify as a girl, then they’re a girl; if they identify as a boy, they’re a boy and they belong in a boys’ bathroom or a girls’ bathroom.”

Both Superintendent of Schools Michael Ring and Rocky Point BOE President Susan Sullivan are determining what is best for these students.

“As is required, while we await a final policy from the Board of Education, the district is operating to implement the outlined material issued and required by the NYSED,” Ring said in an email.

Sullivan added that the board “is continuing to review the new and multilayered guidance document provided by the state Education Department and is seeking advice from our legal counsel about the appropriate steps our district should take in order to ensure our adherence to its contents.”

According to Sullivan, the guidance document is also supported by the U.S. Department of Education. Despite this, Garske doesn’t feel that government should interfere with how he raises his children, who he said feel uncomfortable changing and going to the bathroom with individuals who are not of the same sex physically.

“Do they have a right to be who they are? Absolutely. Do they have a right to their privacy and their comfort? Absolutely,” Garske said. “But not at the risk of my own children’s privacy comfort and their rights.”

The board plans to look further into the issue and make a decision at its next meeting on Nov. 23.