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Beating was hate crime: LGBT groups

Elected officials and nonprofits are rallying behind a transgender Jackson Heights woman who was severely beaten by a pair of men in Woodside last month after the Queens district attorney’s office did not initially categorize the attack as a hate crime.

Leslie Mora was walking home around 4:20 a.m. near Roosevelt Avenue and 72nd Street June 19 when she was accosted by two men, Gilberto Ortiz, 32, and Trinidad Tapia, 19, according to a criminal complaint filed by the DA’s office.

The two Woodside men beat Mora with a metal belt buckle before fleeing the scene, the complaint said. Mora suffered bruises all over her body and a cut to her head.

Michael Silverman, Mora’s attorney, said the men repeatedly called Mora “faggot” and did not stop beating her until a passing motorist threatened to call police. The criminal complaint does not mention gay slurs.

Both men were arrested and charged with assault and weapons possession, the DA said. They were released on their own recognizance and scheduled to return to court July 13.

“While Ms. Mora is transgender, the evidence makes it clear that her assailants believed that she was gay and attacked her because of that,” Silverman wrote in a letter to the DA’s office.

A spokeswoman for DA Richard Brown said prosecutors have met with Silverman and are awaiting additional documents.

“Once we have all the facts, we will make the appropriate legal decision,” she said.

State law allows for an attack to be prosecuted as a hate crime if it was based on the victim’s perceived sexual orientation. The law does not currently cover transgender individuals. A bill that would amend the law to include gender identity has passed the state Assembly, but has been stuck in limbo since the state Senate coup upended the legislative process June 8.

Silverman, who works for the Manhattan-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said attacks against transgender individuals are often accompanied by homophobic slurs.

“In the eyes of attackers and assailants, it’s a distinction with no difference,” he said.

Mora got added support from Queens Pride House, a nonprofit that serves the borough’s gay, lesbian and transgender population.

“Street harassment is something that we hear a lot about from our members, especially transgender members,” said program coordinator Sassafrass Lowery.

The lesbian, gay and bisexual caucus of the state Assembly also urged the DA to file hate crime charges.

“We believe that it is vital to send a message that crimes of bigotry will not be tolerated, by ensuring that the perpetrators of these brutal crimes are properly penalized,” Assembly members Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan) and Matthew Titone (D-Staten Island) wrote in a July 2 letter to prosecutors.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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