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Defiant LGBT marchers vow not to back down after shootings

People participate in the Long Island LGBTQA+ Visibility

People participate in the Long Island LGBTQA+ Visibility Coalition talks before a "visibility walk" in Sayville on Sunday, June 12, 2016. The walk was created after the more established LGBT group canceled this year's pride parade, opting to concentrate on the PrideFest festival. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

LGBT advocates and community leaders across Long Island and New York City defiantly denounced Sunday’s deadly shootings, with hundreds of Long Island protesters vowing not to back down from such violence.

“It’s important to stand in solidarity with those who lost their lives” in Florida, said Erinn Furey, co-founder of the LGBTQA+ Visibility Coalition walk in Sayville, held in part to protest Long Island’s LGBT Network’s cancellation of Saturday’s annual pride parade in Huntington. The walk also aimed to underline the importance of LGBT people being visible on Long Island, she said.

Before about roughly 200 people walked a half-hour from the Sayville Long Island Rail Road station chanting such slogans as “LGBT, we demand visibility,” they paused to honor those killed or wounded early Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

‘‘We know that LGBTQ folks are no strangers to violence, so we’d like to take a moment now to have a moment of silence for the folks who lost their lives in Orlando but also for the trans [gender] women of color losing their lives across the country and the world,” Furey said. “Even though violence has occurred, we have to say we’re here and we’re not going to back down from what we need,” including a ban on anti-transgender discrimination in Nassau County, a theme of the march,’’ she said.

At the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, visitors placed dozens of flowers in front of the famed bar, along with flags, cards and signs.

‘‘We are the birthplace of gay rights,’’ said co-owner Stacey Lentz. ‘‘People want to gather; this is a place for victories as well as, sadly, losses.’’

Reg Kahney, a SoHo resident, stopped by the Stonewall to pay respects to the shooting victims and drop off flowers. ‘‘I wept. . . . Those are my brothers and sisters,’’ she said.

About 2 a.m., a gunman identified as Omar Mateen, 29, of Port Lucie, Florida, wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub known as Pulse Orlando before being fatally shot in a gunfight with SWAT officers, The Associated Press reported. The attack, which left 50 people dead and 53 injured, is being investigated as an act of terrorism, according to AP.

Law enforcement officials were quoted as saying that the alleged shooter may have ties to Islamic terrorism.

David Kilmnick, CEO of LGBT Network, Long Island’s largest such group, said it is important not to blame an entire religion for the extreme beliefs of some.

“This is the month of Ramadan and pride, and it’s important we stand together unified, so hate against any group, whether it’s the LGBT community or Muslims, not be tolerated,” he said.

Kilmnick said he and others with the LGBT Network have met in the past with Muslim leaders on Long Island, adding that the shootings also should spur LGBT groups to work to combat gun violence.

“This is a truly disturbed individual, who unfortunately was a Muslim,’’ said Isma Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island. “Islam in no way or form endorses any act of violence or act of injustice toward fellow human beings.”

Mateen and his family were not members of the Islamic Center, she added.

“Grief isn’t even a strong enough word for the feelings we have now,” said Jaimee Shalhevet, rabbi of North Shore Synagogue in Syosset and a lesbian. ‘‘God is crying at the twisting and misunderstanding of God’s own laws and rules.’’

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, said, “We pray for the victims and we pray for the survivors, and we pray for their families in this time of great loss.”

John Modica, 20, of West Babylon, said the Sayville walk he participated in was a statement that the tragedy in Orlando won’t deter LGBT people from living openly.

The march also remained a protest as well as a visibility event, in part because one point of it was to stand against what organizer Furey called a lack of transgender inclusion in the LGBT Network and the group’s move to a revived parade and festival in Long Beach in 2017.

Walk participant Mena Sposito, 27, who is transgender, identifies as gender-fluid and uses the pronoun “they,” said they were repeatedly beaten up in restrooms and locker rooms in Nassau County in acts of anti-transgender violence. Sposito fears the same thing will happen to participants in next year’s parade and festival in Long Beach.

LGBT Network’s Kilmnick said the group does not exclude transgender people from events and has the largest transgender program on Long Island.

The group plans to hold a memorial vigil Monday at 7 p.m. at the Network’s Bay Shore Center. LGBT Network also will have grief counselors available at its community centers in Bay Shore, Woodbury and Sag Harbor.

Robert Lassegue, manager of the Ice Palace, an LGBT bar in Cherry Grove, Fire Island, said the shootings “make me a little nervous. It makes me think we should step up security. Maybe we’ve become complacent.”

Jacquelyn Piazza, co-owner of Cherry’s on the Bay, a gay bar on Fire Island, said she plans to add security and ask Suffolk police to bolster their presence. She said a vigil for the shooting victims was to be held Sunday evening on the Dock Walk near the Sand Castle restaurant.

Logan Slaughter, a drag performer at the Ice Palace, said

she won’t be intimidated by the attack.

“I’m a person who believes in living my complete truth and not hiding who I am,” she said. “I’ll be more visible now that this happened. ”

With Rachel Uda, Wendy Lu and Ivan Pereira

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