The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) and other advocates and elected officials are pressing the Queens County district attorney’s office to add hate crimes enhancements to assault charges against two men held in connection with a June 19 assault on Leslie Mora, a 30-year-old transgendered woman, in Jackson Heights.
Mora said that during the assault, which involved the beating of her head and back with a belt buckle, her two attackers called her “maricon” and “puto,” two words that in Spanish slang are the equivalent of “faggot.”
According to the Queens DA’s office, Trinidad Tapia, 19, and Gilberto Ortiz, 32, have been charged with assault in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon, a metal belt buckle, in the fourth degree. The two were released on their own recognizance and are due in court on July 7.
Transgendered woman attacked in Jackson Heights by men shouting anti-gay slurs
Mora said she left Lucho’s, a club at 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, at about 3:30 a.m., headed to her home at 74th and Roosevelt. The two suspects, she said, came after her as soon as she left the club, and then came back after her about a block later, at which time “they became much more violent.” She began to feel one of them beating her back and turned her head to see that she was being assaulted with a very large belt buckle, a style she often saw growing up in Mexico. She was also struck in the head by the buckle, sustaining an injury that required stitches.
The two men, Mora said, also tried to pull her clothing off her; their goal, she feared, was to leave her naked on the street. As they shouted slurs at her, they grabbed her wig and threw it into a lot closed off with fencing. As an eyewitness, who she believes was a taxi driver, began to scream, she heard one of her assailants telling the other one, in Spanish, “Come on, that’s enough, let’s go.” Mora assumes that the driver called the police, who arrived quickly.
The police, she said, would not let her get up, instead making her wait for an ambulance. A doctor at Elmhurst Hospital, Mora said, was concerned that the belt buckle attack on her lower back could have caused kidney or other internal injuries, so she was kept in the hospital 24 hours for observation.
According to both Mora and Michael Silverman, TLDEF’s executive director, an assistant district attorney told the victim and a representative from the transgender advocacy group they “did not think it was a hate crime.” Mora said she pressed for an explanation of what the DA felt motivated the attackers, but did not get a straight answer. Silverman said that the prosecutor suggested it may have been an attempted sexual assault, rather than an attack based on Mora’s gender identity or perceived sexual orientation.
“I was attacked because I am transgender,” Mora said in a written release from TLDEF. “I want to make sure that this does not happen to other transgender people and I want to see the people who did this to me brought to justice.”
She told Gay City News, “I am very unhappy. They are not in jail. I need them to treat this as a hate crime.”
Mora moved to New York about six months ago, after living roughly a decade in South Beach. A native of Nicaragua, she was raised in Mexico. She said she had never before experienced harassment in Jackson Heights, but added, “Now I feel different. I am worried.” Going out to a birthday party one evening this week, Mora said, she needed a friend to travel with her.”
Silverman explained that his group has been working with the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) and elected officials, including State Senator Thomas Duane, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, all three openly LGBT Manhattan Democrats, to press District Attorney Richard Brown to try the two suspects on hate crimes charges.
“New York State’s Hate Crimes Law, which I fought hard to pass, clearly states that crimes in which individuals are targeted and attacked because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation are classified as hate crimes,” Duane said in a written release.
In a letter to Brown, on which Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was copied, Glick, joined by her gay colleagues Assemblymen Daniel O’Donnell and Micah Kellner of Manhattan and Matt Titone of Staten Island, wrote, “We now hear that that the New York Police Department has failed to classify Ms. Mora’s attack as a hate crime and that the Queens Country District Attorney’s office subsequently expressed reluctance to viewing this as a hate-motivated crime. We urge you to reconsider your position… we feel strongly that the facts of this case support, and even command, that hate crime charges be brought.”
Quinn, responding to a request for comment, wrote, “I have reached out to the Queens District Attorney's office and have been assured they are investigating this crime carefully and with the utmost regard.”
In a written statement, the DA’s office noted that conviction on the assault and weapons charge could result in a seven-year prison sentence, then added, “Subsequent to their arrest, the District Attorney's Office has met again with the complaining witness and are presently awaiting additional documents in this case. Once we have all the facts, we will make the appropriate legal decision.”
The police department had not, at the time this story was posted, responded to a request for comment.