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Transgender legal protections urged at Nassau County rally

Transgender community supporters march in Garden City to

Transgender community supporters march in Garden City to the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola on Sunday, June 5, 2016. The rally aimed to raise awareness in Nassau County of what the group says are basic human rights being denied to transgender people. Credit: Steven Sunshine

More than 50 people called for the state and Nassau County legislatures to pass legal protections for transgender people during a march to the Nassau County legislative headquarters Sunday in Mineola.

The crowd carried signs and chanted, “Trans rights are human rights!” as they walked a half mile to the steps of the county building, where they issued a rallying cry for the Republican-led State Senate to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.

GENDA would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The measure also expands the state’s hate crime protections to explicitly include crimes against people due to their gender identity or expression. It has passed the Assembly nine times, but has failed to gain traction in the Senate.

“I think there’s a backlash to the fact that marriage equality passed, and I think there’s a very strong Christian right that feels they need to fight back,” said Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Huntington Station-based Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, which organized the march.

The crowd also called for Nassau County to pass an amendment to the local civil rights law, which addresses issues of equality in the workplace, but omits specific protections based on gender identity.

Nassau is the largest county in the state without anti-discrimination protections for transgender people, setting it apart from Suffolk County and New York City, advocates say.

“We’re at a crossroads in this movement,” said Elisabeth Walters, a 37-year-old transgender woman from Selden. “This is what I always equate it to: Roe vs. Wade was not the end of the abortion battle, it was the beginning. Marriage equality was the same way. This [transgender rights] is the next battlefront in the war for LGBT rights.”

Joanna Morena, 41, of Ronkonkoma marched Sunday with her wife to remind people that the fight for LGBT rights is not over now that same-sex marriage is legal.

“We have many friends who were transgendered who stood by us in the marriage equality fight,” Morena said. “As we continue to gain rights, our transgendered brothers and sisters are still struggling for very simple, basic protections.”

Discussions at Sunday’s rally ranged from the need for workplace and other protections in New York to North Carolina’s recent law forcing transgender people to use bathrooms designated for the gender that they were born, as well as the dangers that being transgender in America still poses.

Transgender people have higher average rates of depression and suicide, and are still subject to violent attacks, such as the May 22 beating of transgender man Amos Beede in Vermont, Grey-Owens said. Beede died of his injuries seven days later. Four people were arrested in the case in California on Thursday.

“It really is life and death,” Grey-Owens said of the fight for transgender acceptance. “Our mission, first of all, is to become visible.”

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