North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan spoke with members of the LGBTQ – or lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and queer – community and potential voters at a forum Monday night, promising to be their advocate and vote in their interests if she is elected to serve as state senator for District 7.
The event at Hofstra University was co-hosted by the LGBT Community Center in New York City, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, the Long Island Crisis Center’s Pride for Youth Project, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County and the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition.
Organizers said both incumbent state Sen. Elaine Phillips, a Republican, and her challenger, Kaplan, a Democrat, were invited to “engage with local voters to answer critical community questions about their LGBTQ policy platforms and how they intend to further an inclusive policy agenda.”
Organizers said that Kaplan, who arrived a few minutes after 7:30 p.m., had confirmed her attendance, but Phillips did not.
“I have a feeling I’m going to be all alone up here,” Kaplan said as she walked to her seat at the forum. “But I’m not surprised.”
Kaplan and a campaign spokeswoman said Kaplan ran late because Google calendar listed the event as starting at 7:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. and GPS took them to the wrong side of campus.
Phillips ultimately did not attend the event.
Phillips’ campaign and state Senate office did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday morning.
Shijuade Kadree, the senior director of public policy and advocacy with the LGBT Community Center in New York City, described the event as part of a larger statewide initiative called RiseOut. Among its goals, she said, are to fill “knowledge gaps” in creating a “progressive civil rights agenda” for the community and bring LGBT issues to the fore.
“Our goal is to be able to disseminate as much information as possible in that realm, so that as we advocate for legislative and policy priorities for the community, LGBTQ members of New York state and allies actually feel empowered to act because they have the tools now to create change,” Kadree said.
Kadree also said that there are a number of issues spanning well beyond marriage equality.
“There hasn’t been any legislation in New York specifically pertaining to the LGBT community since marriage passed and unfortunately for some that became sort of the swan song: ‘You have marriage, what else do you need?'” Kadree said. “We’re here to say there are so many more needs for the community and it’s important for us to center the most marginalized vulnerable members of the community.”
Currently the state Senate has 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans, but one Democrat – Simcha Felder – continues to align with Republicans, giving Republicans a 32-31 majority. Consequently a Kaplan victory for the District 7 state Senate seat, which Phillips won in 2016 by a narrow margin, could tip the upper chamber in Democrats’ favor.
“This is a critical election in New York state and it’s a critical election in the country,” Kaplan told forum attendees. “We need to come out and vote. Help us get that vote out.”
Kaplan recalled when she arrived in the United States as a political refugee at 13 years old, after fleeing from the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and said at the time she felt voiceless. But she also gained many opportunities because of the country, she said.
“I’m running because I want to make a little difference,” Kaplan told the roughly dozen people in attendance. “I want to be that voice for the people that don’t have that voice for herself.”
Among the issues raised was the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, a proposal that would add gender identity and expression as a protected class in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws.
Kaplan said she would work to pass it, while, she said, her opponent voted along the Conservative Party line to oppose it.
“She votes against you,” Kaplan said of Phillips. “And I want to advocate for you.”
“I’m not saying anything negative about her – this is just her voting record, and if you want advancement for your community, for this community, we need to have a state Senate that’s Democratic,” Kaplan added.
According to voting records, Phillips voted twice against the proposed legislation while it was in committee.
It was defeated the first time 6-3 in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, when a Democrat no longer in office voted with Republicans to block it in 2017. Republicans defeated it a second time in committee 5-4 in 2018.
GENDA legislation dates back to at least 2009, state Senate records show, with Republicans voting along party lines to continuously defeat the legislation.
Kaplan said that North Hempstead’s Town Board – which has Democrats and Republicans – passed legislation expanding protections to transgender individuals.
Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, highlighted a number of issues to address.
These included a need to educate the community about LGBT needs, learning how to better treat trans individuals in homeless shelters, and the fact that more than 50 state benefits for transgender service members are contingent upon discharge certificates.
One questioner asked about legislation to provide a more “humane alternative” to solitary confinement in prisons, which he said disproportionately affects minority communities and the LGBTQ community.
Kaplan said this was the first time she’d heard of the legislation, but that she’d be “more than happy” to “look at the legislation and hopefully advocate it.”
A question was also raised about the Child Victims Act, a bill that would expand the statute of limitations to victims who are 28 years old and the civil statute of limitations to victims up to 50 years old. The act would also create a one-year look-back window for previously unaddressed claims to be filed.
Kaplan reiterated her support for the legislation, saying she is “100 percent behind” it and highlighted a rally she attended in favor of it earlier this year.
Phillips was not available for comment, but previously co-sponsored a bill with Republican state Sen. Catharine Young. The bill would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations but does not address the civil statute of limitations; currently victims have up until 23 years old to bring a civil suit.
Kaplan also described Phillips as “backed by the NRA” and called for more “sensible gun laws.”
“No community has been sheltered [from gun violence],” Kaplan said.
Kaplan also said she sympathizes with the plight of undocumented immigrants because she has “walked in those shoes.”
“These are immigrants who have come to this country because they obviously could not stay in their countries,” Kaplan said.
When asked whether she would come out publicly against Immigration and Customs Enforcement – known as ICE – Kaplan said she didn’t want to give a solid “yes” or “no” answer.
“I don’t like promising something and not delivering,” she said.