JACKSON HEIGHTS — Members of the lesbian, gay, and transgender community rallied in Queens Tuesday, alleging that businesses were discriminating against transgender residents looking for work.
The rally began at at the Make the Road New York community center in Jackson Heights, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the borough.
New York's Human Rights Law prohibits discriminating against an employee based on gender identity, but many said discrimination still exists — and were pushing for the passage of additional state laws to protect them.
Bianey Garcia, 23, who is transgender, said she applied to work in a clothing store on Junction Boulevard, which had a "help wanted" sign in the window. When she entered the store, she was told by a manager that the position had been filled, she said.
The next day, her mother called the store to ask about the position, and Garcia said she was told to come in right away.
"I felt discriminated against," she said.
Karina Claudio, an activist with Make the Road New York and organizer of the rally, said additional laws need to be passed to further protect members of the LGBT community.
One law, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, would ban employment discrimination based on sexual preference and expression. The Whistleblower Protection Bill would protect workers from retaliation if they report discrimination.
GENDA was passed last week in the assembly, but would need to pass the state senate to move forward. The Whistleblower bill is up for a vote during the next session.
Assemblyman Francisco Moya, who voted for the bill, said additional laws to protect members of the LGBT community were increasingly important with a recent spike in hate crimes in New York City.
"Our work isn't done," he said. "And as we continue to move forward and celebrate Pride month, we cannot forget that the injustices still exist."
Claudio noted that even in a community as diverse as Jackson Heights, discrimination still exists, especially against minority residents.
"We want our community members to contribute to the beautiful community here," she said.
The allegations of discrimination were particularly surprising in Jackson Heights, which hosts the Queens Pride Parade every June and boasts one of the largest LGBT communities in New York City.
Claudio said no official complaints had been filed, but hoped it would bring attention to discriminatory practices and open a dialogue with business owners and transgender members of the community.
But a manager of a supermarket accused of discriminating against a transgender resident looking for work — one of four cited by the group — was surprised by the allegation. He was unaware of any issues and defended the diversity at his store.
"We don't discriminate. We have every kind of person," said the manager. "As soon as we have open space for people, and we need it, we take them."