BY MARK HALLUM AND MATT TRACY
Community News Group
Elected officials and LGBTQ advocates on September 24 rallied around a gay couple who said they were attacked by homophobes inside of a Jackson Heights restaurant this month while bystanders refused to help.
The couple — Alberto Cruz and a man who identifies only as Miguel — were eating at Pollos Mario at 81-01 Roosevelt Avenue shortly after 4:30 a.m. on September 13 when four to six men started a verbal dispute with them before punching the duo, according to cops. The couple was transported to Elmhurst Hospital, where they were treated for their wounds.
The couple stated that restaurant employees at the time did not assist them as they were being pummeled by homophobes, fueling outrage among advocates who were in attendance at the September 24 rally.
“I’m still really concerned about what happened,” Cruz said as he recalled the early-morning scene. “I’m still really afraid and really nervous from the incident.”
A manager at the restaurant said on September 24 that he was not certain of what happened during the incident because he was on vacation. An owner of Pollos Mario could not be reached about the staff’s alleged inaction.
“This was a really awful experience that I wouldn’t wish on anybody else,” Miguel said. “This kind of violence needs to stop now, not just for the LGBT community but for everybody in general. However, I would like to say that the LGBT community is most vulnerable because we still face a lot of discrimination and violence in streets.”
No arrests have been made, but the restaurant turned over surveillance footage of the incident to authorities and trans activist Bianey Garcia shared the video on Twitter. The NYPD confirmed that the case is being investigated as a hate crime. Cops said suspects fled in an unknown vehicle to “parts unknown” following the attack.
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz of Queens was among those in attendance at the rally alongside trans activist Bianey Garcia, who was the victim of a transphobic attack in July while filming a documentary near the same location. The Queens lawmaker warned the restaurant that their team must show support to the LGBTQ community if they wish to participate in Queens Pride and “if you want our money in your establishment.”
“Protecting our LGBTQI community needs to be an everyday job for all of us, not just for our neighbors, but for our business neighbors,” she said. “The real work is when an incident like this happens when you have to step in and take action. It can’t just be about the parties and it can’t just be about the amazing events, it has to be about the hard days when somebody is being attacked.”
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Garcia echoed Cruz’s sentiments and pointed out that LGBTQ folks make up a significant portion of the restaurant’s customer base — especially early in the morning on weekends. She said she spoke with a manager and encouraged the establishment to provide bystander training to its staff.
In the meantime, Garcia said she hopes the NYPD is able to make headway on the case and nab the alleged assailants.
“I think the police have to do their work and to let them know they cannot do this,” she said. “What they did is not right.”