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Advocates press for transgender protection in Nassau

Advocates for the transgender community pleaded Monday with Nassau legislators to revise the county's human rights law to give them specific protection -- but were rebuffed by Republican lawmakers who said the group already is covered.

More than a dozen people appeared before the legislature to ask for a more detailed definition of gender under the 2000 law that ensures residents equal protection against discrimination.

They said they are exposed to discrimination without a legal definition of gender that includes those who don't identify with their sex at birth. Neighboring Suffolk and Queens counties identify transgender people in the language of their human rights laws.

"We are tired of the clear lack of respect we are shown daily," said Julie Owens of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition. "No thought was ever given to protect Nassau's transgender community."

Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury) has proposed language that would broadly define gender to include "actual or perceived sex . . . gender expression, self-image, appearance [and] behavior."

"We thought we had covered every possible form of discrimination that there can be," Jacobs said of the original legislation, passed when Democrats controlled the legislature. "Obviously, we left something out of the law."

But Republicans control the legislature, and Deputy Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said their counsel and the county attorney's office believe that the existing law covers transgender discrimination.

"The fact it doesn't have the language that you want is irrelevant," Nicolello told the advocates. "The law on the books protects transgender people . . . it does what you want it to do."

The debate became contentious after advocates urged supporters of transgender rights to stand up. Nicolello called it "totally inappropriate," and most GOP lawmakers stayed seated. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said that "should not be misconstrued" as not supporting transgender rights.

Sea Cliff Mayor Bruce Kennedy -- who dropped his Republican state Assembly bid earlier this year when the Conservative Party withdrew its endorsement over his support for same-sex marriage -- said revising Nassau's human rights law was "simply a matter of equality."

Kennedy, who is running for State Senate as a Democrat against incumbent Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), suggested that GOP lawmakers do not want to do anything to lose Conservative Party backing.

Nicolello called Kennedy's comments "campaigning," repeating that the GOP position was based only on the language of the law.

"We're not about reaffirming someone's feelings," Nicolello said. "We're about passing laws that are effective and protect people's rights."

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