By Jillian Weynand and Darius Kwak
The Long Island LGBT community plans to celebrate National Coming Out Day today, just a week after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era federal policy that protects transgender workers from discrimination.
The reversal means that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination in the workplace will no longer extend to transgender employees. Title VII will continue to protect discrimination between ethnicity and sexes, but not gender identity. Sessions argued that the Obama administration overstepped its bounds when expanding the law beyond what congress provided originally, implying that protections were only based on sex.
“We are going to be showing the film “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” on Friday,” Aiden Kaplan, the LGBT youth services coordinator at Pride for Youth, said. “It will really show how coming out isn’t just done once in your life. It keeps happening when you come out to other people in your life whether it is your blood family or your queer family.
The Pride for Youth Organization in Bellmore offers programing everyday for LGBTQ members between the ages of 13 and 20. They plan to celebrate National Coming Out Day at their trademark program, the Coffee House, on October 13 beginning at 4:30 pm.
Last year Pride for Youth served 1,060 youth LGBT members and offers 15 programs for support and health services.
“I feel like those who’ve already come out will be unified and strong,” Jeff Hein, a former Suffolk County Community College Gay Straight Alliance member, said. “But for those who haven’t, I think there will be more pressure.”
While working at the PetSmart salon in Port Jefferson, Hein and other employees who identify as LGBTQ have been exposed to inappropriate comments passed by coworkers. He said that he was grateful to have allies who handled the situation accordingly.
The LGBT Network, a Woodbury-based nonprofit organization, estimates that 300,000 Long Islanders identify as LGBTQ and that 66% of LGBT people report hearing anti-LGBT comments at work.
“The feeling overall is that everything that we’ve accomplished is being dismantled,” Mila Madison, the executive director of the Transgender Research Center, said. “The change comes from when everyone knows about it. If people get behind it the laws will change, it becomes a no brainer.”
The Attorney General’s reversal follows the Trump Administration’s decisions within the past year. This includes ending Obama’s programs that allowed states to determine their transgender rights, as well as issuing guidance to schools for transgender bathroom use and refusing transgender enlistment in the military.
“I wasn’t surprised when Sessions reversed the policy, but I was angry,” Dr. Donna Riley, a trans woman, clinical social worker and therapist who has been working with the transgender and gender variant community since 1999, said. “I have many trans male clients who were looking forward to enlisting in the military, so this recent decision is just the latest in a troubling year for the LGBT community.”
Turnout and support for National Coming Out Day will likely be even greater now, Riley said. “It’s going to backfire on them.”
The progress of legalizing gay marriage took a long time, but it eventually got where the LGBT community intended it to be.
“Activism is more than just a bullhorn,” Madison said. “I don’t think people are shocked. It is just making coming out harder. It adds more pressure and more fear to it.”