Tag Archives: Long Island

Trump visit ignites town where Latino was killed in hate crime

By all accounts, tensions between Latino newcomers and whites have eased in the nearly eight years since a vicious hate-crime stabbing left an Ecuadorean immigrant dead.

Enter Donald Trump.

Trump’s appearance at a GOP fundraiser on Thursday just blocks from the site of the attack has ignited protests from Latinos, who fear the billionaire’s tough talk against immigrants could open old wounds and undo the progress that’s been made in the Long Island community.

“If he comes, there might be a toxic environment again. Maybe something bad happens,” 23-year-old Jocelyn Fajardo, who was born in New York City to Ecuadorean parents, said before the event. “Trump puts U.S. people against us, Latinos. He divides people.”

Joselo Lucero, whose brother was killed in the 2008 attack, says Patchogue is the wrong place for Trump to visit. “My community has suffered so much discrimination.”

So far, there’s been no comment on the controversy from Trump, who caused a firestorm on the first day of his campaign when he labeled illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and criminals, and he has repeatedly promised to build a massive wall along the border.

“I feel like that’s the only thing he talks about,” said businessman Angel Zhicay, 50, who is from Ecuador.

Thursday’s gala to raise funds for Republican candidates across eastern Long Island was held in a nightclub about 200 yards from the intersection where 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero was confronted by a gang of teens who admitted they regularly targeted Hispanic immigrants. They called the altercations “beaner hopping.”

Lucero was walking with a friend when the teens began yelling ethnic slurs and approached them. Lucero hit Jeffrey Conroy, then 17, in the head with a belt. Conroy lost his temper, took out a folding knife and fatally plunged it into Lucero’s chest.

Conroy was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The six others pleaded guilty to lesser crimes.

At the time of Lucero’s slaying, police acknowledged there had been a tense atmosphere in the town of nearly 12,000, including attacks on immigrant day laborers, but they say tensions have noticeably subsided. Last month, the top prize in the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade went to a group of Ecuadorean step dancers.

“As much as one might hear that hateful echo in Trump’s words today, it does not negate his right to speak,” Long Island newspaper Newsday said in an editorial Wednesday. “More important, his trip is a chance for Patchogue to tell the story of its progress.”

Activists held protests leading up to and during Trump’s appearance. About 100 people gathered outside the event holding signs decrying Trump and shouting. Several hundred also attended a vigil for Lucero held about an hour before Trump took the stage. This week at the site of the slaying, a sign reads: “Hate is not welcome in Patchogue. Make America Love Again.”

Trump made no mention Lucero or the protesters during his 20-minute speech Thursday evening. Speaking about his plan to build a build a massive wall along the border, Trump told his supporters: “I have great relationships with Mexico and Hispanic people.”

John Jay LaValle, chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, said Thursday’s event was scheduled more than two months ago and he invited every Republican candidate. He said Trump, who was recently endorsed by the county GOP, accepted only last week.

“While we offer the greatest empathy possible to the family of Marcelo Lucero,” LaValle said, “we can’t help but to be suspicious of the motives of those leading the charge to connect that vicious hate crime with Mr. Trump’s commitment to enforcement of immigration laws that have gone largely ignored by both parties for 30 years.”

Felix Diaz, 47, an emigrant from El Salvador who owns his own landscaping business, said he hopes Trump cancels.

“He talks about separating families,”  Diaz said of Trump. “I have two kids who are here undocumented, but I am not speaking for them only. I am speaking for the whole Latino community. Even if someone would pay me to go, I would never go and listen to him.”


States buying up coastal properties as sea levels rise and storms grow fiercer

As coastal communities are confronted with increasingly costly storms, they are turning to buyouts to create natural buffers along the coast and help protect nearby neighborhoods and businesses from flooding. While some efforts have met resistance — some don’t want to leave their beachfront homes, some fear a declining property tax base — others are showing results.

After suffering heavy losses from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New York pledged to spend $400 million in federal and state money on buyouts to create more buffers on the coasts of Long Island and Staten Island. The state has made 525 offers, worth $64 million, out of 750 to 1,000 it had anticipated in 2013.

New Jersey has a similar goal. After Sandy, the state used the same mix of federal grants and state funds to put $300 million into its existing Blue Acres program, and said it expected to clear 1,300 homes from flood-prone areas near rivers and the coastline.

The Garden State has made 700 offers and closed on more than 400 properties.

Although many coastal homeowners were willing to sell, the state found it was unable to buy enough houses — despite offering pre-storm prices for storm-damaged houses — in clusters that would allow for buffers of open space.

Some property owners simply didn’t want to leave, said Bob Considine, of the state’s environmental agency.

That’s not unusual, said Chad Berginnis, director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. Beachfront houses serve as valuable rental property that owners don’t want to part with.

The post-Sandy programs in New York and New Jersey, which rely on allotments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are the largest buyout investments by single states.

Similar programs exist in nearly every state and are run by other federal agencies with state and local partnerships. A program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent almost $900 million since 1998 on buyouts in 48 states. State and local governments organize the buyouts and typically provide 25 percent of the funds, with the rest coming from the federal government. In some cases, the federal share can be higher.

In almost two decades, about $108 million went to North Carolina, according to a Stateline analysis of FEMA data. About 7 percent of flooding-related buyout has gone to coastal buyouts — as opposed to buyouts of properties in river flood plains, with Florida and Mississippi leading the way for coastal buyouts.

A growing threat

Several factors add urgency to state efforts to combat flooding.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which insures 5 million properties nationwide, likely will be unable to repay the $23 billion it owes the U.S. Treasury Department because of heavy losses after Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.

At the same time, coastal communities face a worsening threat. A September study from Columbia University’s Earth Institute concluded that a combination of rising sea levels and larger storms likely will magnify East Coast flooding hundreds of times in the coming decades.

Solutions like beach replacement and seawalls have been losing their appeal as communities find even routine storms will overrun man-made obstacles and wash away millions of dollars in replacement sand, said Berginnis, of the floodplain managers group.

Severe flooding of the Mississippi River in 1993, from Minnesota to Missouri, boosted interest in buyouts and sparked legislation that increased the federal share of buyouts from the previous maximum of 50 percent. Some 12,000 properties were bought out and entire communities were shifted away from the river.

But buyouts in Louisiana found less support after Katrina, and the state ended up spending more on elevating coastal houses than on removing them to create buffers.

Today, buyout programs are often large and statewide, but they can be small and local.

In Lusby, Maryland, along the Chesapeake Bay, for instance, coastal cliffs had eroded so badly by 2013 that Susan Davis’ home was in danger of collapse and a neighbor’s patio was dangling over the bay. County officials told her that they could raise the funds to match the federal dollars needed to buy her home because a mild winter had left a surplus in the storm budget. And they warned she might not get another chance.

Davis said she and her husband wished they could have stayed and fought the cliff erosion by adding rocks at sea level. But they took the buyout and moved to a house on a creek a few miles inland.

“The situation was horrible,” Davis said. “There’s no way we could win. The house would have been worthless because there’s no way to sell it.”

Buyout programs are most cost-effective, and get most local support, when governments develop new housing in safer areas that keeps bought-out residents nearby and minimizes tax losses, according to a study by Columbia Law School.

Hurdles on the coast

Buyout programs along the nation’s coasts are still small and face several obstacles, including high property prices.

Even North Carolina — which is often battered by Atlantic storms and, at $108 million since 1998, has spent more in FEMA grants than any other state — rarely buys coastal property. The bulk of the buyout money has gone to purchase riverfront homes, said Chris Crew, the state hazard mitigation officer. Less than 5 percent has been used to purchase property along the state’s 300 miles of coast.

Many beachfront properties are rentals owned by investors, and the state’s priority is to help with owner-occupied housing. Such houses also typically cost $600,000 or more, and FEMA is unlikely to agree to buy any home above $276,000, Crew said.

“There’s not a $276,000 house on the ocean in Kill Devil Hills,” he said, referring to a popular vacation spot in the state.

Because homeowners often depend on renting out their beachfront properties, coastal houses in the state tend to be raised above typical flood levels.

Generally, Crew said, it’s been more popular — and more cost-effective for North Carolina — to buy out houses along the state’s inland network of creeks and canals that sit just a few feet above sea level.

A boost in New York

New York’s post-Sandy buyout program got a boost when an entire neighborhood, Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, organized and negotiated buyouts last year. Residents found that even ordinary rainstorms were flooding the area, said Barbara Brancaccio, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Nearby neighborhoods joined in, and Staten Island now accounts for 338 of the 525 offers made by the state.

New York officials offered several reasons for their success, including a focus on buyouts on Staten Island’s eastern shore and Long Island’s Suffolk County, where houses are relatively affordable. The HUD program prohibits home purchases above $700,000, and vacation rentals are usually too profitable to sell.

To combat complaints that the buyouts were hurting property tax rolls, New York added a separate program that uses federal funds to buy storm-damaged homes, tear them down, and resell the land for rebuilding with an agreement that the new homes be storm-resistant. At least 275 such offers have been made.

But the idea of taking homes off the tax rolls, even to create buffers to protect other homes, remains controversial.

When Mastic Beach, a bay-front community on Long Island, heard last year that storm-damaged homes near the shore might be bought out and returned to a natural state, reaction was mixed.

“We’re nervous, because we don’t want to see our tax rolls dwindle down to nothing,” then-Mayor Bill Biondi told reporters. “There’s no reason … to buy out people’s properties and turn them into wasteland,” he said during a meeting about a plan to demolish seven homes.

But this year, the new mayor, Maura Spery, came out in support of the buyouts and of having a buffer.

Spery, who expects the water to claim her house near Narrow Bay in coming decades, said there’s a growing sense the approach buys more time for homeowners like her, and spares her neighbors some of the costs of rescues and road repairs after storms.

“How much should taxpayers have to pay for me to have access to my house if it’s underwater?” she said.

Stateline is a service of The Pew Charitable Trusts

Spike in water toxins blamed for hundreds of turtle deaths

Hundreds of small turtles have washed up dead on the eastern end of Long Island in the past month, a die-off scientists blame on waterborne toxins that have reached unprecedented levels for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

Necropsies on some of the more than 200 diamondback terrapins found on the island’s North Fork point to saxitoxin, a biotoxin produced in algae blooms that has been found in the water at 10 times the normal level. The poison collects in shellfish, which are eaten by the turtles in brackish bays and estuaries, quickly causing paralysis and death.

“We’re seeing bodies washing up in perfect condition. This has never happened before. It’s an alarming thing,” said Karen Testa, executive director of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, whose volunteers have collected dozens of the dead turtles and sent them to state officials for analysis.

She says all signs point to saxitoxin.

“There’s no other explanation for what’s causing the die-off of these poor animals,” she said. “It’s a horrible way to go.”

Christopher Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences who has studied algal blooms off Long Island for more than 20 years, said saxitoxin is normally detected in the region’s waters, but he has never seen saxitonin this high and never seen it cause such a wildlife die-off.

Red algae blooms produce the saxitoxin, which state officials have called a “dangerous neurotoxin” that can damage or impair nerve tissue. Shellfish filter the toxic algae cells from the water and when other creatures chomp down on the shellfish, they can become paralyzed.

Saxitoxin can also cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, which typically results in numbness and tightening in the face and a loss of coordination. In most cases, patients make a full recovery in a few days, but rare cases have resulted in death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 cases of poisoning by marine toxins are reported each year, but officials have been unable to pinpoint a precise number because there is no requirement that health care providers report the illnesses. The CDC says an average of one person dies every four years from toxic seafood poisoning.

Suffolk County has never had a reported case of illness or death related to saxitoxin, Assistant Deputy County Executive Justin Meyers said. However, he said there is a “long-term potential threat to public health” if the saxitoxin levels continue to rise. 

Meyers said county and state officials had advised people not to consume shellfish from the area and enacted a shellfishing ban for three creeks and bays. The county health department also advised against swimming in discolored water.

A spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which runs a marine toxin monitoring program and sent representatives to collect the deceased turtles, said all signs from initial necropsies point toward saxitoxin, but the agency is sending the turtle’s organs for further testing. Those results won’t be available for several weeks.

“This is a serious threat to public health,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment. “It’s not a joke anymore. When you have a saxitoxin that can kill humans, you need to address the cause.”

Gobler and Esposito both believe the increase in saxitoxin levels may be related to nitrogen in the water caused by leaking septic tanks and sewage that makes its way into bays, though there appears to be no explanation for why the levels are now higher than ever before. 

Meyers said the county has developed a plan to reduce nitrogen pollution, including acquiring $400 million in state and federal grants to improve wastewater infrastructure. The county also is trying to convert 360,000 homes from having cesspools to using municipal sewers.

Experts say the damage already done to the eastern Long Island turtle population, coming during the breeding and egg-laying season, could have long-term consequences.

“We’ve seen very few instances like this before,” said Dr. Russell Burke, the chairman of the biology department at Hofstra University, who also studies turtles on Long Island. “It can take decades to recover.”

‘Virgin Mother’ sculpture upsets Long Island villagers

A 33-foot bronze sculpture of a nude pregnant woman has upset a Long Island, New York, village.

The statue, “The Virgin Mother,” by British artist Damien Hirst has an exposed fetus, skull and tissue.

It sits on a conservation easement of the historic Old Westbury estate of real estate mogul Aby Rosen.

Newsday says the village has strict rules regulating easements.

A hearing on the issue is set for May 19, but for now the sculpture has been covered up.

The sculpture previously sat in the courtyard at Lever House in mid-Manhattan.

Rosen is being sued by the New York Landmarks Conservancy over his plan to move a Picasso painting it owns from The Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan. The restaurant is in the Seagram Building owned by Rosen’s company, RFR Holding Corp.

For copyright reasons, here is a link to an image of the sculpture: http://www.damienhirst.com/the-virgin-mother.


Long Island DJs suspended over hoax about homophobic parent

Two Long Island, New York, radio personalities were suspended after their on-air hoax about a homophobic parent.

David Widmer, general manager of Connoisseur Media Long Island, the station’s owner, told Newsday in New York that Steve Harper and Leeana Karlson of Farmingdale’s WKJY/93.3 FM were suspended over the weekend.

Widmer said the station was dealing with concerns from various community groups and LGBT civil rights organizations about the incident, but said that Harper and Karlson were supportive of marriage equality.

Last week, the two hosts of The K98.3 Morning Show aired a fake report about a mother returning a birthday party invitation from two fathers saying she did not want to subject her son to that “lifestyle.”

Harper and Karlson posted then remarks on the station’s website saying the story was fictitious and apologizing for the stunt.

Corruption saga ‘Hustle’ a solid riot

Underscoring deeply conflicted characters, who are on a mission to reconceive their unsatisfying circumstances, has become director David O. Russell’s sweet spot. From his raw 1996 film, “Flirting with Disaster,” to last year’s acclaimed “Silver Linings Playbook,” he effectively unravels the disarray.

In the 1970s-set con artist tale “American Hustle,” Russell’s ability to depict an audacious take on a bedlam breakdown peaks, making this his most entertaining jaunt yet.   

Loosely chronicling the FBI investigation designed to implicate government officials by way of bribery known as the Abscam scandal, Russell inserts this disclaimer at the start: “Some of this actually happened.” The note sets the facetious tone for the corruption smear — six congressmen and a senator really went down — that riddled New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Russell, who co-wrote the script with Eric Singer (“The International”), could have devised an austere new-age noir. But he avoided the melodrama, instead heightening the ludicrous true-crime thread to an outrageously savage, comical and rapid degree. The result is a sleek revival of the 1970s, complete with oversized glasses, plaid suit jackets, plunging come-hither necklines and a rapturous soundtrack.

Just about all of his characters are painstakingly obsessed with getting ahead. As a result, they cast morality and logic to the side at the expense of love, stability and a clean criminal record.

Some of the names from the real operation have been changed here, as Irving Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale, is based on actual con artist Mel Weinberg, who was forced to conspire with the FBI to evade doing time.

The constantly effective Bale, as the bearded Irving, is a clever swindler who owns a slew of dry cleaners, sells both poached and fake art and hooks people into pseudo loan deals. But he’s not exclusively heartless. His conscience ensures he ideally wants a person to feel satisfied, which makes him quite lovable.

Sacrificing his usual sex appeal, Bale committed to packing on an extra 40 pounds and hiding a fake balding head with a hairpiece and a comb-over for this role. Still, his Irving is able to charm the smart and sassy former stripper Sydney Prosser (a memorably bold and genius Amy Adams) at a winter indoor-pool party by identifying their mutual love for Duke Ellington. Sydney, who is tired of slumming, pitches in on Irving’s crooking and assumes the perfect British blue blood persona for luring clientele into the loan scam. Before long, the two, who take turns narrating the story, fall madly in love.

But we soon find out Irving is married and stashes his lady Roselyn and her son on Long Island. His sultry and blunt companion, fiercely pronounced by Jennifer Lawrence, ensures she’s far from forgotten as she threatens to unmask Irving’s scheming if he utters the word divorce. The 23-year-old actress is the most irresistible part of this film, as she shifts between fiery and needy in an instant.

As Irving and Sydney’s plotting gains steam, they attract the interest of FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who is thirsty for recognition and threatens a bust unless the couple goes in on a plan to nail politicians. But Richie, who lives with his mother and packs his head with rollers for that sexy curly look, falls victim to Sydney’s deceitful advances, as he certainly isn’t as clever as he thinks he is.

However, with themes of duality and skepticism running throughout, Sydney’s attraction toward Richie (who Cooper cleverly punches up in each scene), inevitably becomes real.

When the scheme to take down questionable pompadour-donning New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) goes wrong, things begin to unravel.

The film may lack grit but the stellar cast adds to its allure, helping to round out this dynamic account where reinvention offers the means to endure. 

2 hospitalized, 4 arrested after anti-gay assault on Long Island

The New York City Anti-Violence Project reports that two men were hospitalized over the weekend after being assaulted by at least four males in Babylon, Long Island.

Authorities have arrested males – in their late teens and early 20s – in connection with the assault.

One of the injured men, according to the report from the AVP, was in serious condition on July 22. The other man was treated and released.

LongIsland.News12.com reported that four men were walking in Babylon at about 3:30 a.m. on July 21 when they stopped two other men to ask directions to the train station.

The four men then began to beat the two men, while shouting homophobic slurs.

The defendants face charges of gang assault and third-degree assault with hate crime penalties.

A press release from the Long Island GLBT Services Network stated, “The alleged anti-gay hate crime in Babylon is disturbing and frightening. Many people think that just because we are winning the right to marry in many states, that the world has changed and everything is now okay for gay people. This incident reminds us that we need to be vigilant in combatting hate and homophobia and that there still is a tremendous amount of work to do to make our Long Island a safe and welcoming community for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and families. It is our hope that the Suffolk County District Attorney will continue to prosecute this as the hate crime that it is, and show no mercy to the attackers – they need to be sent away to prison, and by doing so, this will send a message all across Long Island that hate and violence will not be tolerated against any group.”

The New York AVP has responded to a series of anti-gay assaults this summer, including a fatal attack on one man.

New York gay resort community gains historic recognition

Decades before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, lesbians and gay men were living freely and openly in a place called Cherry Grove.

The seaside resort on Fire Island, about 60 miles east of Manhattan, was known as far back as the late 1940s as a sanctuary where gay writers, actors and businesspeople from the city and beyond escaped to relax, hold hands and show affection in public.

“It’s probably one of the earliest examples of don’t ask, don’t tell,” Carl Luss said after learning in June that the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, opened in 1948, added to the National Register of Historic Places. The theater was cited for being the oldest continuously operating gay and lesbian theater in the United States.

“The message is, we have arrived, finally,” said Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association.

“We remember when we could be arrested just for being gay,” Romano said. “To now be applauded and to be allowed to marry and to be recognized by the government for being a gay theater for so many years is just thrilling. It’s thrilling.”

Cherry Grove is one of about 17 hamlets and villages on the 30-mile long barrier island 5 miles off the southern shore of Long Island.

Virtually obliterated in a 1938 hurricane, the community now has about 250 houses that can sell for $400,000 or more. Two miles of white, sandy beaches facing the Atlantic are accessible via a network of narrow boardwalks. Denizens either walk or get around on golf carts; no cars are permitted in most Fire Island communities.

Cherry Grove and the nearby Pines neighborhood are the predominantly gay communities on Fire Island, although the Pines developed its reputation as a haven decades after Cherry Grove.

“By the nature of its isolation and beauty, it became a safe haven for gay people, where they could not be afraid of repercussions from work, or anger from their families about being gay,” said Thom “Panzi” Hansen, president of the Cherry Grove Arts Project. He and others noted there were occasional raids in which police would enforce laws prohibiting same-sex dancing or ticket people for lewd behavior, but largely because the island was so isolated from the mainland, they were generally left alone.

Landlords and businesses desperate for cash after the Depression, the 1938 hurricane and World War II generally overlooked their tenants’ sexual orientation in order to fill what were then largely rental properties, locals said.

Every July Fourth, a ferry filled with men in drag travels from Cherry Grove to the Pines in a fun-loving commemoration of a man in drag being refused service at a bar in the Pines in 1976. The event commemorates the advances of gays, lesbians and transgender people in the ensuing decades.

Notable Cherry Grove visitors and residents have included poet W.H. Auden; playwright Tennessee Williams; author Truman Capote; actresses Nancy Walker, Tallulah Bankhead and Hermione Gingold; comedian Kaye Ballard; and New Yorker journalist Janet Flanner.

Residents sought landmark status for the Community House and Theater to jump-start interest in funding a renovation of the 151-seat barn-like structure.

It is only the third gay-rights landmark to get the federal designation, joining the Stonewall, where gays clashed with the New York Police Department for three days in 1969 over harassment, leading to the modern gay rights movement, and the Washington, D.C., home of Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, who became a gay rights activist after he was fired from his job with the Army Map Service in 1957 for refusing to answer questions about his sexual orientation.

The walls of the theater’s basement dressing room feature autographs of many of the performers who called the stage their temporary home. While some were willing to sign their real names, Luss said, others left only initials or aliases, still reticent to out themselves publicly even in a relatively safe atmosphere.

“It was a secret hidden in the open,” said Luss, who wrote the application for landmark status. “Everybody sort of knew they were all on the same page and as long as there wasn’t you know, ultra behavior, people were satisfied.”

Gay visitors would – and still do – catch a Long Island Rail Road train in Manhattan for the 75-minute trip to Sayville and slowly begin to relax.

Once they got on a ferry for a 20-minute ride across Great South Bay to Cherry Grove, “personalities changed. The uptightness just began to fall off. You would see men start to chat with each other and laugh and smile,” said Jack Dowling, who began visiting Cherry Grove as a teenager in the 1950s and now, at age 80, lives there.

Once on Fire Island, they would hold hands and kiss as they walked through town, Dowling said. Others dressed in drag for celebrations such as an annual baseball game on the beach.

“It was a safety zone,” said Dowling, a painter and writer. Other gay enclaves were beginning to gain popularity in such places as Provincetown, Mass., San Francisco and Key West, Fla., but Cherry Grove “was without question the leading place that was predominantly gay,” he said.

With acceptance of gays and lesbians evolving to the point where the Supreme Court has granted federal benefits to gay couples who are legally married, Romano and others say Cherry Grove – where visitors are greeted by oversize American and gay liberation flags fluttering in the wind – is more than ever seen as a comfortable place for gays and straights to visit for the day, a weekend or all summer long.

“I don’t think we’re getting as many young people as we used to,” Romano said. “Now you can be gay almost anywhere.”

Troy Files, who has been coming to Cherry Grove for about seven years, said people will always be attracted to what he called “a gay and lesbian Mayberry RFD.”

“You can be gay in the middle of Pennsylvania and be safe now,” Files said. “But for us, it’s a hidden jewel. We’re all here to have fun. The theme of Cherry Grove is `unity in the community,’ and it truly shows.”

Esther Newton, a University of Michigan women’s studies professor who wrote “Cherry Grove, Fire Island,” predicted that despite social changes, the Fire Island community will remain a gay enclave long into the future.

“In the next 50, 75, 100 years, there will be gay people and lesbians who will want to go to a place like the Grove,” she said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

New York PTA chapter to focus on LGBT students

Rachael Scheinman hears anti-gay slurs all the time.

The senior at the Portledge School in Locust Valley, N.Y., says many of her peers use hateful vocabulary as generic putdowns without realizing the harm.

“These slurs are used very cruelly, and when I ask people about it they say they are not being anti-gay; they are just substituting the slur to mean ‘stupid’ or something like that,” said the 18-year-old, who is gay.

Scheinman was among those celebrating  the approval of a Parent-Teacher Association chapter designed specifically for the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

David Kilmnick, executive director of the Long Island GLBT Services Network, said the new organization will lobby for stronger anti-bullying measures that target gays and seek to have the contributions of gays incorporated into curriculums.

“The bullying gay kids face in our schools is at a much higher level; it’s really an epidemic,” Kilmnick said. “Parents come to us frustrated and want schools to do something. This PTSA is really going to be a lifesaver for those parents and kids. They will now have a vehicle to have their voice heard.”

Representatives of the state and national PTA presented organizers with their charter on April 19. Kilmnick said the group technically will be known as a parent-teacher-student association and will not be affiliated with any particular school district, and plans are for meetings to be held across Long Island. Membership will be open to anyone.

“You don’t have to live on Long Island to join. You don’t have to be gay or have a kid who is gay,” Kilmnick said. “All you have to do is believe in the movement.”

Increasingly, school administrators and lawmakers are acknowledging the need to address issues the Long Island PTA group is seeking to remedy.

Last month, the largest school district in Minnesota reached an agreement on a policy barring the harassment and bullying of students who are gay, or perceived to be gay. That followed the suicide of six students in less than two years, some of whom were gay. The new policy requires teachers to foster a respectful learning environment for all students.

Earlier this year, California became the first state to require public schools to teach the contributions of gays and lesbians. It bans instructional materials judged to reflect adversely on gays or particular religions.

James Martinez, spokesman for the National PTA, said that only one other PTSA has been dedicated specifically to advocacy for gay students. A group in the Seattle formed in 1999 but disbanded five years later.

The national PTA has about 5 million members, including chapters at U.S. military bases overseas with schools that teach the children of American service members. The organization seeks to foster parental involvement in schools.

The Long Island group initially clashed with state and national PTA officials last November, when it announced its intention to become a PTA chapter without contacting them. Kilmnick and others said subsequent meetings with state PTA officials ironed out any misunderstandings.

Maria Fletcher, president of the New York State PTA, said the organization has not received any complaints about the decision to admit the gay group, and does not expect to.

Its creation, she said, is a “win-win.”

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Starbucks hit with anti-gay discrimination charges

Starbucks is investigating claims that an employee at one of its Long Island stores was harassed into quitting because he’s gay, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reports.

“The actions reported do not correspond with our values, who we are as a company or the beliefs we try to instill in our partners,” Starbucks said a statement.

But the employee claims he was berated by his manager for talking about his personal life at work, and a New York blogger posted an account of the harassment he experienced, which was witnessed by her wife and daughter.

“Yesterday when I walked into your Centereach, Long Island, location I saw one of the most brazen and unapologetic displays of homophobia I have ever witnessed in my entire life,” the blogger’s wife wrote to the company. “What was most concerning about it was it was perpetuated by not one, not two but THREE of your employees and it was directed towards a fourth employee. …. In the middle of your store. Two feet away from my table. Then when Jeffrey (the employee), who was visibly shaken, went to the bathroom to collect him self, the women at the table went on a long, ranting homophobic rant that lasted about five minutes. This rant transpired two feet away from my table where I sat with my daughter. A three-year-old child, with two mothers. I have never, in my entire life seem such a gross and unapologetic display of ignorance and intolerance. … I was horrified that my daughter was exposed to that.”

Starbucks declined to comment on whether disciplinary action would be taken against employees. Starbucks was criticized earlier this year for allegedly firing a barista because she has dwarfism.

Starbucks told Wisconsin Gazette that it does not permit LGBT publications in its corporate-owned stores, although franchised Starbucks in both Milwaukee and Chicago can carry gay papers.