Some 15 transgender advocates gathered outside a Copiague gym Monday night to protest what they called denigrating remarks on the facility’s Facebook page directed at people who have changed their sexual identities.
“The transgender community is hurting,” said Jay Guercio, one of the leaders of the group that organized the protest, the Long Island LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Asexual) Visibility Coalition. “The fact that something like this is happening on the island is killing me inside. I can’t believe that an organization that says they are about anti-bullying will go and say boys have to be boys and girls have to be girls. They don’t understand how detrimental and how damaging that comment is to someone who already doesn’t feel confident in who they are in their own body.”
Protesters held signs stating “We Will not be Silenced” and “Hate is not a Family Value.”
Ray Bettinelli, the acting director of the targeted gym, BCBA Community Sports Training Center, denied the nonprofit center had offended anyone, and said the facility has provided community services such as anti-bullying workshops and veterans’ assistance for years.
His views on sexual identity differ from those of the protesters, Bettinelli said, but it was not his intention to offend.
“We stand on our reputation,” he said. “We’ve done tremendous things with the kids in the community, both veterans and youth.”
Comments on the gym’s Facebook page posted in January triggered Monday night’s protest. After the cosmetics giant Maybelline announced it was making a man the star of a makeup ad campaign for the first time in the company’s history, Bettinelli linked an article about the change on the Facebook page.
The article included a photograph of “the New Face of Maybelline,” makeup clad model Manny Gutierrez.
Bettinelli’s posting added the comment “and then there’s boxing! BCBA helping young BOYS BECOME MEN, since 2004.”
He said he linked the article “because I thought it was outrageous that Maybelline would be this underhanded to just try to boost their profits by encouraging men to feminize themselves so they can sell their makeup.”
That the gym’s comments “didn’t say what kind of man, or are they transgendered men, and men come in all states” apparently provoked the controversy, Bettinelli said.
“That’s not the way we roll down here,” he said in an interview. “Men are men and girls are girls.”
Elisabeth Walters, a leader of the protest group, said the comments and others the gym posted were offensive.
“We don’t want this to become normal on Long Island, where kids like that will be under attack,” Walters said. “Kids should be able to go and play sports anywhere regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Walters said the group’s goal is to meet with gym officials “and hopefully foster a dialogue where kids can feel comfortable to go there and not be ostracized for being transgender.”
The all-volunteer gym recently moved from Lindenhurst into its Copiague location. It offers low-cost classes in boxing as well as anti-bullying workshops.
Bettinelli said many divorced mothers bring their sons to the gym.
“A lot of the men have dropped the fatherly ball,” he said. “Mothers are mothers and they tend to over-mother ... They come to us because they want a more fatherly role for their kids. And we supply that.”
He said he wasn’t interested in discussing the issue with protesters.
“There is nothing I could say to them,” Bettinelli said. “I don’t share their values or their agenda. We are polar opposites.”