Two transgender women were attacked with pepper spray and hit with anti-LGBTQ slurs in back-to-back assaults in Queens on the day before WorldPride and Stonewall 50 in New York City.
Bianey Garcia, a longtime trans activist who has recently played a role in the effort to decriminalize sex work in New York, and Norma Ureiro were first assaulted at Roosevelt Avenue and 82nd Street in Jackson Heights while they were working on a documentary in the early morning hours of June 29, Garcia told Gay City News this week. Shortly thereafter, they were attacked yet again.
In the first attack, Garcia said a pair of assailants approached them and started muttering hateful words, saying, “You are a fucking faggot, you’re not a real woman.” One attacker, a woman, then accused Garcia of being a sex worker and that she would call the police on her for engaging in prostitution.
Moments later, Garcia was pepper-sprayed twice.
“I started feeling a burn in my back,” Garcia recalled. “I told her, ‘This is not nice. I’m not doing anything to you. Why are you using pepper spray on me?’”
Garcia and Ureiro were able to flag down police officers immediately. Cops placed the first alleged attacker, 24-year-old Paola Custodio, under arrest, but she was belligerent and started kicking windows while inside of the police car, Garcia said.
After cops took off with Custodio in tow, the other attacker — a man — returned and pounced on the duo yet again, spraying Garcia in the face with pepper spray.
“I literally was scared,” Garcia recalled. “I didn’t know if he was going to use a weapon or a knife. I was spilling water in my eyes. I remember someone took my hand and put me on a bench. I sat down and called the police again.”
Garcia received medical treatment at Elmhurst Hospital following the attacks and tweeted a photo from there at around 5:30 a.m. that morning, writing, “Transphobia against our community exists in Queens and happens.”
Cops were ultimately unable to track down the second alleged perpetrator. Garcia wasn’t pleased with the way she was treated by police officers because she felt they carried themselves with certain assumptions about those who have been involved in sex work.
“I told police I’m not a sex worker,” Garcia said. “They really don’t care.”
The NYPD confirmed the first arrest and a department spokesperson told Gay City News that Custodio was hit with two hate crime charges — one for assault and one for harassment. The other attacker was still on the loose as of July 2, and Garcia said Custodio had already been released from custody.
Garcia was thankful for the outpouring of support she received from her friends and loved ones in the aftermath of the attacks. Local activists, advocacy groups, and politicians, including Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos and out queer Queens DA candidate Tiffany Cabán, gathered at a July 1 rally in support of Garcia and Ureiro.
Several elected officials also reacted to the news on social media. Out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote on Twitter that he was “appalled by this senseless attack,” while Queens Assemblymember Ron Kim tweeted, “This is not acceptable. @BianeyDlaO I’m so sorry this happened to you. We are here for you, let us know if you need anything.”
Garcia noted that she has since started feeling better despite dealing with lingering discomfort in her eyes due to the pepper spray. The attack left her rattled, but she has no plans to back down from her community work — even in the face of danger.
“This is not going to stop me,” she said.
She later stated on Facebook that the best way to raise awareness of violence against the transgender community is to support the eighth annual #TransLatinxMarch on July 8 at 4 p.m. at 92-10 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights.