LGBTQ Community Confronts NYC Leaders

The audience gathered around to discuss solutions to combat unemployment. Worker cooperatives were highlighted. (Valerie Dekimpe/The Ink)


Members of LGBTQ groups met with elected officials at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, Queens, Monday evening to voice their concerns over persistent housing and job discrimination.

The event, the Forum to Address the Needs of Trans & Gender Non-Conforming New Yorkers, was organized by seven non profits and LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the Anti-Violence Project and Make the Road New York.

Transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex (TGNCI) support groups offer community members the opportunity to share their grievances and life stories. For many members who feel let down by the system, the forum was the first time they were able to face policymakers with their demands related to housing, employment, health care and other issues.

“Listen to our community’s concerns but not only listen, use your privilege to leverage what we need, right?” said LaLa Zannell from the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “It’s not just a one-sided conversation.”

Unemployment figured prominently in the discussion as the lack of job opportunities often has a trickle-down effect on housing and health outcomes.

According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the transgender and gender non-conforming population experienced rates of unemployment twice as high as the general population, while 18 percent became homeless because of their gender identity/expression.

New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodation, credit and education, but enforcing the law remains a challenge.

“The government needs to commit itself to supervising employers because they don’t hire trans people,” Stefany Flores, a member of the AIDS Center of Queens County who leads a support group for transgender Latina women told the audience. “And then they ask us why we do sex work.”

Flores, a 38-year-old transgender woman from Honduras came to New York two years ago after fleeing police abuse in her country. She has a work permit but has not been able to find a stable, well-paying job. She works as an independent beautician, something many women in the trans-Latina community find as a viable option for temporary employment.

Designed as a “strategy session” between community leaders, elected officials, and the trans community, the audience was divided into focus groups dealing with multiple issues including education, immigration, policing and incarceration and hate violence.

The employment focus group discussion highlighted workers’ co-operatives such as Make the Road’s initiative to launch New York City’s first trans-Latina workers’ co-op. The new beauty business will be owned by eight transgender women from Queens and will provide stable jobs to trans women facing work discrimination. Members at the meeting listed worker-owned co-ops as a way to combat unemployment. They called for similar ventures to be developed in other industries.

“One of the things that I mentioned in the forum at the Bronx was to create more worker co-operatives for trans women and men,” said Bianey García, referring to a similar forum that took place last year. “We have one, but we need more help.”

Council Member Daniel Dromm has been an important contributor to the Trans-Latina co-op in Queens, providing funds to cover the cosmetology training for its eight members. Event organizers introduced the politician as a “champion.” He is one of seven openly gay and lesbian members of the New York City Council, and addressed the mostly Hispanic audience in Spanish.

“I’m a member of the gay community,” he said, drawing a round of applause. “You are my brothers and sisters.”

Dromm recounted the violence and police discrimination a transgender friend of his experienced in Jackson Heights, before announcing legislation he is pursuing, including a possible quota system that would require a certain number of city jobs to be allocated to LGBTQ individuals.

“I hope these solutions won’t stay in the room,” said Bianey García from Make the Road New York in Spanish. “Let’s get to work.”