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Nearly 200 rally against anti-transgender hate crimes in Queens

by Scott Stiffler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 28, 2009

Roughly 200 residents of Queens gathered on the corner of 37th Avenue and 78th Street in Jackson Heights on Sunday, July 26, to rally against two recent anti-transgender attacks.

Two men accosted and subsequently beat Leslie Mora with a belt as she walked home from a Roosevelt Avenue nightclub at 2:30 a.m. on June 19. The men who allegedly attacked Mora called her "faggot" in Spanish. The attack left her with multiple injuries, including bruises all over her body, and stitches in her scalp.

Police officers found Mora nearly naked and bleeding on the sidewalk. They also recovered a belt buckle from the assailants that was covered in blood. Mora's alleged assailants, Trinidad Tapia, 19, and Gilberto Ortiz, 32, fled the scene but were arrested by police soon after the attack. Both were charged with assault with intent to cause physical injury with a weapon, a felony, and released on their own recognizance.

In the second incident, Carmella Etienne was attacked with rocks and bottles in St. Albans on July 8. She suffered a major gash to her leg. And her attackers threatened to slash her throat.

Rally co-organizer and longtime activist Melissa Sklarz told EDGE she saw the rally as an important opportunity for "people willing to stand up and have their voices heard,"-of which, she notes, there are not many. The theme, therefore, was "transgender visibility in Queens."

"There is a large transgender community here," the Woodside resident said. "We don't just live in Manhattan or come out at night-and LGBT does not just mean gay; it means all of us."

Representatives from a number of local organizations and elected officials from across the borough spoke at the rally. And a moment of silence was held in memory of those have died from anti-trans violence. Journals were passed among the crowd for people to write messages of support and encouragement. Organizers also called on upon Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other city and state officials to speak up and to implement improved services for trans victims of hate crimes, effective police training, and tolerance programs for schools and communities.

"The police listened to both victims, made arrests, and the perpetrators were charged with felonies, so the women were taken seriously by the police and the District Attorney." Sklarz noted.

In addition to galvanizing the trans community, Sklarz added she feels the borough's straight residents learned more about their trans neighbors.

"We talked about safety, coming together, and the importance of speaking to our elected officials about our Transgender Civil Rights bill in the state senate." she said. "[I am] optimistic that when the senate reconvenes in the spring, we will get traction on this bill."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy’s at The Palace. . .at Don’t Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli’s 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.


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