You might think the end of the state’s mask mandate means the end to ugly school board meetings, parent battles, and the vitriol that has engulfed Long Island for months.
If anything, expect the deeply polarizing period to extend further, albeit on other topics. Expect sometimes-hateful, often-disturbing rhetoric and battle lines drawn in preparation for the May school board elections.
Exhibit #1: The spotlight trained on the Manhasset school board last week.
The topic: transgender bathrooms.
It started when the leader of the increasingly vocal, right-wing organization, Long Island Loud Majority, showed up at a Manhasset school board meeting. Shawn Farash doesn’t live in the district and doesn’t have children, but said he was there to support other speakers.
While in the Manhasset middle school, he apparently happened upon an all-gender bathroom.
Just its existence was enough to generate an angry rant the following day on Farash’s podcast.
"The whole ‘T’ of LGBT is very dangerous," Farash said, calling the restroom’s sign "horrifying" and "disgusting."
I could use the same words to describe Farash’s lengthy diatribe.
Just take a peek at one piece of it.
"You’ve got to vote like your life is on the line here because the life of your country is on the line here. If they get to the kids and they poison the kids with all this garbage like all-gender bathrooms and gender equity forums and transformation coaches and LGBTQ-ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP … they’ve commandeered about half the alphabet now, and the entire rainbow … I’m just kidding, sorta … I really, I mean, I’ve had enough of the nonsense. Folks, this is the time to get up and fight."
Well, he’s right about the last part.
It’s not easy to be children or teens who are transgender or gender-nonconforming. Farash, like officials in Texas who are apparently trying to criminally investigate parents who support their transgender children for child abuse, makes it that much harder. The children and teens, and those who support them, including school districts like Manhasset, aren’t part of anything that’s "dangerous." The danger lies with those who paint the issue in hateful, ugly strokes.
It’s easy to dismiss Farash’s commentary as the rantings of a far-right advocate trying to stir the pot. But that would be unwise. Long Island Loud Majority showed what it was capable of when candidates it backed for the Smithtown library board won easily last year. And Farash now promises similar turnover in Manhasset and elsewhere when school board members are up for reelection come May.
Masking might not be a significant issue by then. So, while Farash still talks about masks, it’s clear Long Island Loud Majority is embracing other agenda items to galvanize supporters. Curriculum — specifically diversity, equity and inclusion efforts — might be first on that list, but topics like the rights of students who are transgender and schools’ efforts to support them clearly aren’t far behind.
It’s not surprising that local elected officials and candidates, including Democratic Assemb. Gina Sillitti and 3rd Congressional District candidate Robert Zimmerman, condemned Farash’s remarks, which the school board itself called "reprehensible." Democratic State Sen. Anna Kaplan called Farash "incendiary" and "transphobic." North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, a Republican, criticized the "hateful and derisive comments."
Farash said in an interview that he’s neither transphobic nor intolerant. His comments say otherwise. And he and his supporters are ready for battle, with the region’s schools and children as the pawns.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall’s opinions are her own.