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Transgender advocates rally outside pol's Smithtown office

Protesters hold up signs during a rally to

Protesters hold up signs during a rally to support trans rights in Smithtown on Saturday, June 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

More than 25 people held a demonstration Saturday to express outrage that the State Senate has failed to vote on a bill that would protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment, among other areas.

Transgender people and their advocates lined the sidewalk in front of state Sen. John Flanagan's office in Smithtown, waving signs such as "Trans rights are civil rights" at passersby on Main Street, with some drivers honking horns in a show of solidarity.

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, based in Huntington, which organized the event, said she wanted to raise awareness.

"There is still a community of people that are citizens that pay taxes and do not have basic civil rights," she said.

Owens said transgender people can be refused housing, denied service in restaurants or get turned away from medical or legal services.

On June 2, the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, or GENDA -- which ensures transgender people legal protections against discriminatory practices in education, housing and consumer credit -- passed in the state Assembly for the eighth year.

In his "2015 Opportunity Agenda" presented in January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state Human Rights Law should be amended to protect gender identity or expression from discrimination.

Owens said she and other advocates are angry that Flanagan, as Senate majority leader, did not bring the bill to the floor for a vote before the session ended last week. Flanagan (R-East Northport) could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Kerry Thomas, 29, of East Northport, who identifies as transgender, said he has sought medical treatment in Manhattan for the past decade because he has faced discrimination at Long Island medical offices.

Thomas said he was happy about the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, but said the fight for transgender rights still marches on.

"We don't want people to sit back and think that the work is over," he said. "If anything, it's time to push further . . . to pass GENDA in New York State."

Ben and Pat Testa, of Kings Park, who have a transgender son, said they are outraged by foot-dragging on the bill.

"How can you deny a group of people their basic rights?" said Pat Testa, 68. "They're people that are contributing to society, they're having the courage to live honestly and be who they are inside."

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