Homophobic Attacks, Police Inaction Called Out in Queens

Joseph Sokolowski and husband Jeremy Valarezo say they faced a stream of homophobic slurs and physical assaults from Mohammed Hoque, the owner of a Jackson Heights tattoo parlor, Village Moon, they were patronizing in November.
ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH

Just a day after the nation honored a champion of equality, community leaders in Jackson Heights gathered to say that hate has no place in their neighborhood.

During a January 22 press conference at the intersection of 78th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm called on the NYPD to charge the owner of Village Moon with a hate crime after he allegedly muttered anti-gay hate speech to two patrons in early November.

“The NYPD should act in the best interest of the survivors — not further victimize them,” said Dromm, who added that he was sad that, in 2019, people still believe they can use hateful terms like “faggot” and get away with it.

“We call upon the police to right this wrong,” he added.

This past November 3, Elmhurst resident Jeremy Valarezo and his husband, Joseph Sokolowski, purchased a pipe at Village Moon, a tattoo and body piercing shop located at 78-01 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights. After making their purchase, store employee Mohammed Hoque insisted on photocopying Valarezo’s driver’s license.

When Valarazo and his husband objected to the request, “that’s when Mohammed came in at 1,000 percent with rage in his eyes,” said Valarezo.

Hoque allegedly began spewing hate speech at the couple including the term “faggots.” According to Valarezo, Hoque followed the couple out of the shop and allegedly punched Valarezo in the chin, injuring his lip, and then hit Sokolowski.

Police were called to the scene and arrested Sokolowski and Hoque; the storeowner was subsequently charged with two counts of assault, and the victim was booked for criminal mischief. According to police, during the dispute, Sokolowski damaged a store mannequin, worth $500, after he had allegedly pushed it to the ground in anger.

According to Valarezo and Sokolowski, they told police about Hoque’s language as soon as they arrived on the scene and attempted to show video footage. But they claim the NYPD did not want to classify the incident as a hate crime.

When asked about the incident, police stated that the Hate Crime Task Force is aware of video and looking into it, but that no information was provided at the time of the incident to indicate that it was a hate crime.

“We stand behind each other in Queens,” said Borough President Melinda Katz, who along with Councilmember Rory Lancman and former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a candidate for public advocate, were among officials showing their concern and support for the couple.

“Society has come a long way in recent decades toward reducing hatred and discrimination against gay people,” said Tina Arniotis, co-chair of Queens Pride, which presents the annual parade and festival in June. “However, it will be a while — if ever — before anti-gay sentiment disappears completely, and this only provides more fuel for us leaders and advocates to educate and fight for LGBTQ rights.”

This story originally appeared on QNS.com, a sister Schneps Media publication to Gay City News.

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