A petite 28-year-old Latina transgender woman, who identified herself as Gaby, was walking at 68th Street and 41st Avenue in Woodside, Queens at 6 a.m. on August 17 when a tall man came up to speak with her and then grabbed her purse. As he fled on 41st Avenue, Gaby pursued him to 67th Street, where he struck her in the head with a hammer shouting, “This is what you get for being gay!” He fled once more, taking off in a gray Toyota 4Runner.
The suspect is still at large, but police have released the surveillance video shown below, which captures his image and that of his car, and are said to be close to an arrest.
The Woodside community, elected officials, and LGBT activists – about 100 in all – rallied around the recovering victim on Thursday evening August 25, decrying the shocking violence, acknowledging that it is part of an “epidemic” of assaults on trans women of color locally and nationally, and vowing to do all they can to combat it. But while speakers were long on passionate concern, they were short on specific steps that will stem the tide of violence.
The communities that gathered around Gaby, however, showed that Woodside stood with her and not with perpetrators who would harm a transgender person.
“An attack on the transgender community is an attack on every single one of us,” said Jimmy Van Bramer, the out gay local city councilmember who serves as majority leader. “We will see to it that it never happens again.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer lamented how often “we have had to come together after an attack” like this.
“I’m glad the victim is going to make a full recovery,” he said.
Public Advocate Letitia James invoked transgender victims from Islan Nettles, murdered in Harlem in 2013, to Pearl Love, harassed earlier this year on the subway, but insisted, “Hate always loses. Love always wins.”
Congressmember Joe Crowley said, “This is not representative of the Woodside community that I grew up in. It ought not be tolerated anywhere.”
Bianey Garcia, a transgender activist with Make the Road, a social justice group out of neighboring Jackson Heights, said while this is the 13th known attack on trans women in Queens this year, “so many are not reported for fear of going to the police,” partly due to transphobia in official ranks and also to fear of exposure for those who are undocumented immigrants.
Councilmember Rosie Mendez, an out lesbian, said the attacks have reached “epidemic proportions” and called on the community to take action when witnessing such a crime.
LaLa Zannell, a transgender organizer with the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said, “All of us need to work together to address the root causes,” citing the lack of “access to shelter, affordable housing, jobs, and health care.”
James, the public advocate, echoed that perspective, saying the global issues confronting the transgender community need addressing.
“They have among the highest rates of unemployment,” she said. “We need to treat them as members of our family.”
Gaby, the survivor of the attack, spoke in Spanish and closed the rally by saying she was “so thankful for all of you here.” She acknowledged, however, “I feel a lot of fear.”
Van Bramer was confident that the police were closing in on the suspect.
Bill Kregler, president of the Fire Marshals Benevolent Association, said after the rally, “The cops are going to ID this guy. He can give himself up safely or be captured by the police department.”
Kregler said the suspect was a six-foot tall black man aged 30-35.
Asked what could stem the tide of violence, Van Bramer said it would help to “make sure the NYPD is sensitive and aware of all the issues” facing the transgender community so that is easier for trans victims to report the crimes against them.
Mendez said that the LGBT caucus in the Council has begun initiatives on LGBT youth and older people, but “needs to talk more about how to help the transgender community.”
Asked if police should consider going undercover – acting as transgender women to catch anti-transgender attackers – no one on hand embraced the idea of using such decoys.
“This community has come a long way,” Crowley said of Woodside, and he called for the development of more “empathy” for transgender people as well as more civil rights protections “at the state and federal level.” But, President Barack Obama’s recent guidance on how schools must treat transgender students is under a fierce legal assault in federal courts and a comprehensive federal LGBT rights bill, the Equality Act, cannot get a hearing in the Republican-led Congress.
Tanya Walker, the trans care outreach coordinator at a new program created by the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens launching September 29, said, “Trans people need education and jobs, and we need to train people in businesses and in government about trans issues, and we need to get paid to do it.” She, too, was grateful for the rally of support.
“It sends the message that what happened is not okay,” Walker said, recalling an attack she suffered from a stranger who came to her door on Staten Island in the 1990s. In that incident, police did nothing
Anyone with information regarding the suspect should call Detective Sebastian Chichotky of the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force at 646-610-5267.