Nayra and Gabriela don’t go out much these days, and not just because the two roommates are homebodies. When they venture outside their apartment in Queens, their hesitation is caused as much by emotional wounds as by physical injuries. The two friends are trans women, and though their Jackson Heights neighborhood has a reputation as a welcoming community for gays and lesbians, hate crimes against transgender women have alarmed many in the area.
On the afternoon of March 17, the two women were entering a McDonald’s restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue when they heard a man screaming behind them. When they turned around, they said, he began hurling insults.
“He called us prostitutes, faggots, bitches,” said Gabriela, 33, who, like her friend, spoke on the condition that her last name not be published because of the nature of the assault as well as lingering fear. “I looked at him and said, ‘Girl, this man is crazy.’ He wanted to hurt us.”
Within seconds, the encounter escalated from insults to injuries. The man rushed them, knocking them to the ground as he pummeled Nayra, whose ankle was fractured in the fall. Gabriella said that she had pounced on him but that he had gotten up, grabbed a broken umbrella and used it to beat her on her face and hands.
When he tried to escape, Gabriella chased him, grabbing at the waistband of his pants and slowing him down until the police arrived and took him into custody. No bystanders intervened during the attack, they said.
Now, what has been called a hate crime by the police has turned a neighborhood they love into one they fear.
“I can’t go out and see too many people,” Nayra, 31, said. “If I have appointments, I’ll take a taxi and come back home. I don’t want to see anybody. If I do, I freeze. If I go outside to smoke and I hear a man’s voice, I panic.”
Patrick Omeara, 38, of Oakdale, N.Y., was arrested and faces various charges, including assault as a hate crime. He could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Howard Turman, did not respond to several voice messages requesting comment. The case is in the pretrial stage, and the next court date is scheduled for Tuesday.