As police continue to look for the suspect behind the brutal attack of a transgender woman in Jackson Heights early Sunday has left members of the local transgender community frightened about their safety.
Authorities said the woman was about to walk into her home on 93rd Street at around 4 a.m. when an unidentified man came up from behind, beat her before dragging her sidewalk before he allegedly slammed her head into the curb.
Local activist Bianey Garcia told Metro New York that other transgender members of the immigrant-rich neighborhood in Queens are accustomed to living in a constant state of alert in the area once the sun sets.
Garcia, an organizer with Make the Road, shook her head when asked if the attack took her by surprise. Originally from Mexico, she moved to Jackson Heights seven years ago.
“In this neighborhood, most of the attacks come from within the Latino community,” she said in Spanish. “Many in the community can still be very machista.”
More than half of the Jackson Heights community identifies as Hispanic, according to census data. And Garcia said the neighborhood has been accepting of the burgeoning local LGBT community, many of whom are also Latino.
At the same time, Jackson Heights is also a haven for many LGBT-friendly activities and groups. The neighborhood boasts a yearly Queens Pride parade since 1993. Besides Make the Road, the community is also host to the Queens Pride House established in 1997.
Pauline Park, who co-founded Queens Pride House, was like Garcia horrified but not surprised by Sunday’s assault.
The attack comes less than a month after a national Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, organized to recognize the at least 21 transgender men and women across the country – 19 of whom were people of color.
“Unfortunately violence against transgender women of color has become so commonplace, particularly in Jackson Heights and western Queens,” she said.
Park moved to Jackson Heights 20 years ago, she said, which was diverse even back then and features New York City’s largest LGBT community outside Manhattan.
Police have not identified the 35-year-old victim by name, but neighbors have identified her as Kathy. She remains in Elmhurst Hospital Center under medical supervision, able to speak short sentences according to one person who visited her.
NYPD have not yet determined if the attack was a bias crime, but said the its Hate Crimes Task Force was involved in the investigation. The attack came shortly before a gay man was sexually assaulted in an unrelated case nearby on 37th Avenue.
“The survivors of these attacks may have been targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm in a statement Tuesday.
“If true, these assaults are attempts to strike fear in the heart of the LGBT community and the neighborhood at large,” he added. “We will not tolerate hate.”
Make the Road’s Garcia said the local transgender community has struggled to make sure their concerns are listened to by area police and their neighbors.
“One of the problems is trans women are extremely hesitant to go to police if there are any crimes out of fear of being revictimized,” she said, adding that inartful reporting of a victim’s gender by either authorities or mediacan result in the same.
Garcia plans to stand with local activists and leaders on Thursday to rebuff violence against transgender women.
“We’re transgender, and we’re a part of Jackson Heights,” she said. “We deserve the same respect and social equality that everyone is entitled to.”