Transvestite demands apology from Central Square Wal-Mart

Destini and John Rellos

A Central New York man is demanding an apology from Wal-Mart over the way he says he was treated because he dresses as a woman.

John Rellos tells CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that on April 9th, he and his wife, Destini were shopping at the Wal-Mart store in Central Square. Rellos says he was dressed in a skirt, sweater and was wearing a wig. At one point, Rellos says two female employees made fun of his appearance. He claims one of the employees called him a "freak" in a voice loud enough for others to hear.

Holding back tears, Rellos said he was "angry, hurt, really hurt...because I just came out to do this. I've been hiding for a while, not showing how I am." He said this was a "very big moment" in his life and "they crushed me."

Rellos says another female employee told him the others were "out of line." He says he took his complaint to a manager and told the manager that he wanted the employees to apologize. Rellos also felt he deserved a $200 gift certificate "for his troubles." When asked if they simply wanted the money, Destini replied, "No... an apology would be OK.... at least apologize for what she said and we couldn't even get that."

He says the manager told him the employees would be reprimanded and will undergo sensitivity training..

Rellos says he went home and decided to lodge a formal complaint with Wal-Mart's headquarters, but was told over the phone that he would need specific names. When Rellos returned to the store, he says everyone refused to identify themselves. He later called the Central Square store but says the manager told him to stop calling and complaining.

CNY Central contacted the Central Square store and was referred to the company's national media line. Ashley Hardie, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, says Rellos is a "regular customer and we appreciate his business." She says the company investigated but found "no evidence to support the customer's allegation. We have apologized for any misunderstanding." Hardie added: "we don't tolerate discrimination and have re-iterated our policy with our associates."

Gay, lesbian and transgender advocates say such incidents happen all the time and point up the need for GENDA. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act would specifically outlaw discrimination based on gender identity. GENDA has passed the New York Assembly for each of the past four years, but has died in the State Senate. Kim Dill of the advocacy organization, SAGE of Upstate said GENDA is "just so people who are members of certain groups have the same pleasures as other people to move about in society."