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Jackson Heights LGBT rally honors victims of attacks

Dozens of people rallied in Jackson Heights Sunday against what they called the victimization of transgender men and women in Queens following two brutal attacks earlier this summer.

Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community gathered on the steps of the Jackson Heights Post Office at 37th Avenue and 78th Street to decry what they called hate-fueled attacks on Leslie Mora and Carnella Etienne during the last month.

“When one transgender woman gets attacked in a community, it’s a problem. When two get attacked, it’s a tragedy,” said Melissa Sklarz, a Queens LGBT activist and transgender woman. “The victimization of transgender people in Queens ends today.”

Arrests have been made in both Mora and Etienne’s attacks, but thus far only Etienne’s is being classified as a hate crime by the Queens district attorney.

The first incident occurred June 19, when Mora was walking home around 4:20 a.m. near Roosevelt Avenue and 72nd Street and she was accosted by two men, Gilberto Ortiz, 32, and Trinidad Tapia, 19, according to a criminal complaint filed by the DA’s office.

The two Woodside men are accused of beating Mora with a metal belt buckle before fleeing the scene, the complaint said. Mora suffered bruises all over her body and a cut to her head.

Michael Silverman, Mora’s attorney, said the men repeatedly called Mora “faggot” and did not stop beating her until a passing motorist threatened to call police. The criminal complaint does not mention any gay slurs.

The second incident took place July 8 at the corner of 199th Street and 116th Avenue, where Etienne, 22, was walking around 8:30 p.m., Queens DA Richard Brown said. Etienne was struck on her foot with a rock by Rasheed Thomas, 22, and Nathaniel Sims, 25, who yelled slurs while throwing more rocks, according to Brown.

They were each charged with assault as a hate crime, Brown said.

At the rally, notebooks were passed around and attendees wrote notes to both women, praising them for their courage in coming forward.

“Keeping you in my thoughts. You’re an inspiration,” one note read.

Attendees at the rally called for the state to ratify the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, credit, public accommodations and other areas of everyday life.

Democratic District Leader Daniel Dromm said putting an end to such attacks begins with granting equal rights to all members of a community.

“This isn’t just about the LGBT community, it’s about our entire community,” Dromm said. “Because if they can do this to us, they can find a reason to do it to you.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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