Like so many other Americans in today’s economic downturn, Candy Ramos is having a hard time finding a job that will help her pay the bills.
“I could sell drugs, and I could sell sex, but I don’t want to go to jail,” she said. Instead, Ramos waited in long lines with hundreds of other people to meet representatives from companies with open positions.
Ramos, a transgendered woman from Queens, joined nearly 3,000 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community at the third annual Out to Work event on Sept. 17. Sponsored by the LGBT Community Center and the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, it is the largest LGBT job fair in the Northeast.
Out to Work hosted 41 companies that advocate equality for LGBT employees in the workplace. With regards to sexual identity and orientation, companies generally employ a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. However, this option does not apply as easily to transgendered men and women.
“I can’t hide anything,” Ramos, 45, said about the prejudice she has faced as a transgendered woman. “On the résumé and on the phone, I’m fine, but when I go to the interview, suddenly the position is filled.”
Based on her past experiences, Ramos believes transgendered and transsexual teenagers do not often graduate from high school. She is proud of her high-school diploma, but in a room full of attendees with college degrees and other qualifications, she worries no one will give her a job offer.
“As a transgendered, it’s difficult normally to get a job,” Ramos said. “But it’s extremely hard right now because of the economy.”
Greg Weachock, 38, has faced discrimination in the workplace for being gay. He tried to hide his sexuality at previous jobs but was unhappy.
“It’s exhausting trying to live two lives,” Weachock said. “No one should have to do that.”
Weachock also knows firsthand how important it is to work for a company that supports members of his community. During the seven years he worked at Merrill Lynch, Weachock was encouraged to be himself, which allowed him to finally reconcile his work life with his personal life, he said. Coming out at work enabled him to tell his parents, who are conservative Ukranian Catholics, that he is gay.
“With all these companies supporting LGBT as a part of society, it helps family members also accept it,” Weachock said.
Douglas Frimmet, 47, traveled an hour from New Jersey to attend the job fair in Chelsea. Frimmet appreciated the efforts companies made to show their support for the LGBT community.
“I think it’s the start of LGBT recognition, but it will take time for the general public to recognize and accept us,” he said.
Organizers of the event believed it was a success. Although recent figures revealed New York City’s unemployment rate was at 9.6 percent, the highest it has been since 1997, the job fair hosted the same number of companies as the previous year.
“This event is a beacon of hope for the community,” said Lauren Danziger, the executive director of the GVCCC. “People are out there, hiring.”