Politicians may have been celebrating a budget deal in Albany, but a coalition of advocates was protesting in Smithtown over a host of issues they say have been left out of the political debate this session.
A small group of about 20 advocates on Friday walked into the office of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) with signed petitions and letters. They were calling, among other issues, for support of legal protections for transgender people; tuition aid for immigrants who don’t have legal status; placing limits on solitary confinement of prisoners, and increasing state funding for public transportation.
Their common concern, they said, is that Flanagan has not agreed to meet with advocates on progressive issues to hear them out.
“We’re just asking for our fair share,” said Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer with the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union, which is seeking better bus services funded through taxes.
“What we are asking for is that our elected officials, our state senators and our representatives, when they go back to the state, they are advocating for Long Island, you know, they’re not just advocating for their best interests,” Watkins-Lopez said. “We are all groups that people like to pretend that we don’t exist . . . but we are here and we’re going to get louder.”
Flanagan’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The advocates spoke to a legislative aide for Flanagan, who listened and received their petitions. They exited the office building chanting, “What do we want? Transparency! When do we want it? Now!”
Juli Grey-Owens of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition said these groups will continue to work together to hold elected officials accountable. She wants to see legal protections against the discrimination of transgender people enacted in New York.
“The overall message is representation” or the lack thereof, Grey-Owens said. “These are all very important issues that, unfortunately, it seems, our senators and many of our representatives are missing the boat as far as what these issues are and how important they are to Long Islanders.”