Looking at Joi-Elle White, it is hard to tell she was born a man, but the transgender New Yorker says once people find out, it often leads to discrimination. She says it especially happens in the workplace.
"It’s a shame to be on a job walking on eggshells, to know I could get fired not for my performance at work, because I was always early and willing to stay late and was a hard worker, but just for who I am," says White.
She says she changed career four times in the last 20 years, because many employers would not hire her. Working in retail, health care and other fields, White says if she was discovered during the interview she would not get a call back, even though that is against the law.
White is now a counselor for LGBT youth.
"It’s a shame that to feel comfortable I have to work in and around my community," she says.
Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of the Jackson Heights advocacy group Make the Road New York, says complaints of discrimination and harassment are very common in the transgender community and it is something that pushes people to work in the underground economy.
After getting numerous complaints from their members, the group did its own study.
"What we found is that at least 30 to 40 percent of these transgender individuals did not even get an interview, and there were at least two retail chains that demonstrated systematic practices of discrimination against transgender people," says Archila.
The group protested against the retail chains last month and took their findings to the state attorney general, who sued two retailers over their hiring practices.
One of the retailers settled a few weeks ago but denied any wrongdoing — which was seen as a victory for many in the transgender community.
"We are looking for acceptance. If not so much acceptance, respect to just interview me for me. Get to know me for me, not who I am or what I am," says White.
"We are working to make sure that our communities are safe for everyone," says Archila.
They strive to make New York safe for all residents, regardless of who they are or who they want to be.