By Jonathan Sperling
Community leaders gathered in Jackson Heights on Tuesday to denounce a local tattoo shop that they say was the site of an anti-gay hate crime attack.
Councilmember Daniel Dromm joined attorney Ali Najmi and Elmhurst resident Jeremy Valarezo at the rally on the corner of 78th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, where Valarezo was allegedly assaulted by an employee of Village Moon because of his sexual orientation.
The Nov. 3 incident was sparked when Valarezo and his husband, Joseph Sokolowski made a purchase using a credit card at the Roosevelt Avenue shop. Following the purchase, the store employee Mohammed Hoque allegedly requested to make a photocopy of Valarezo's drivers license.
The exchange was partially captured on cell phone video, where Hoque is allegedly heard calling the two gay men homophobic slurs. When Valarezo and Sokolowski exited the shop, the video stops and doesn’t show Hoque allegedly assault Valarezo.
Though the homophobic tirade was recorded on video, police did not charge Hoque with a hate crime. Instead, they issued him a desk appearance ticket for misdemeanor assault.
Sokolowski was charged with criminal mischief for knocking over a mannequin as he left the store.
“I won’t be getting tattooed here anymore. May I recommend you find another shop, too,” said District 13 State Sen. Jessica Ramos on Twitter, referring to Village Moon.
Daniella, a cashier who answered the phone at Village Moon, first told the Eagle “no comment,” when asked about the alleged hate crime, but upon further questioning stated that the incident was “a misunderstanding.”
Jackson Heights is home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in New York City and the Queens Pride nonprofit organization, but that fact does not prevent the neighborhood from being the site of various hate crimes.
“Society has come a long way in reducing anti-gay hate crimes, but we have seen an increase in violence against our trans community,” Tina Arniotis, the co-chair of Queens Pride, which hosts the annual Queens Pride Parade in Jackson Heights, told the Eagle.
Arniotis added that Queens Pride has “a great relationship with the NYPD at our parade.”