NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: NEW YORK UP CLOSE; New Bias Frontier: A Council Bill Aims to Protect the Transgendered
By Denny Lee
New York Times
11 June 2000
When Donnie Vargas switched sexes and became Diana, her masculine wardrobe was not the only thing to go. She lost her job waiting on tables and was evicted from her apartment in Providence, R.I.
So Ms. Vargas did what many outcasts before had done: she moved to New York in search of more ”diversity and greater opportunities,” she said. But two years and dozens of job interviews later, she is still looking for work.
”Some places chuckled at me,” said Ms. Vargas, 30, who now lives in Astoria, Queens. ”Others told me they don’t hire my kind,” including one restaurant that advertised itself as owned and operated by gays, she said.
On Monday, members of the City Council introduced legislation to broaden the city’s human rights law to protect Ms. Vargas and others like her. The bill would insert the words, ”gender identity or expression,” into existing language that bars discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit and education.
”Transgendered or gender variant people have no protection under city law,” said Pauline Park, legislative coordinator of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, a nonprofit group formed in 1998. ”Without protection from discrimination, we can be and are routinely fired or simply denied the opportunity to work.”
The bill has 22 co-sponsors, said Peter Rider, a legislative aide to Councilwoman Christine Quinn, who is leading the effort along with five other Council members: Margarita Lopez, Philip Reed, Bill Perkins, Ronnie Eldridge and Stephen DiBrienza .
If the bill is enacted, New York will join 26 other cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta, with similar laws.
While the bill’s supporters say they have not encountered much opposition, they expect an uphill battle before the Council. The city’s gay civil rights bill, they note, took 15 years before it was passed in 1986 and signed into law. The Giuliani administration has not taken a position on the new measure.
Meanwhile, transgender advocates have been speaking before community groups to build support. ”People respond to me just as another middle-aged woman,” said Melissa Sklarz, 46, who became the city’s first transgendered officeholder last November when she won a judicial delegate seat.
”I keep forgetting that I’m different,” Ms. Sklarz said. ”In my own head, I’m no different at all.” DENNY LEE
Photo: Diana Vargas has found job-hunting tough in New York. (James Estrin/The New York Times)
This article originally appeared in the 11 June 2000 issue of the New York Times.