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Photo by Alejandra O'Connell-Domenech/QNS
Partners and victims of an anti-gay hate crime in Jackson Heights, Joseph Sokolowski and Jeremy Valarezo pose after a presso conference with community leaders.

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

During a Jan. 22 press conference at the intersection of 78th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Councilman Daniel Dromm called upon the NYPD 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 of the survivors — not further victimize them,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, who added that he was sad that, in 2019, people still believe they can use hateful terms like “f—-t” and get away with it.

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

On Nov. 3, 2018, 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 Ave., 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 “f—-ts.” 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 store owner 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 that the NYPD did not want to classify the incident as a hate crime.

When QNS asked officer 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 Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who along with Councilman Rory Lancman and Melissa Mark-Viverito were among the other elected officials showing their concern and support for the couple.

“Society has come a long way in recent decades towards reducing hatred and discrimination against gay people,” said Tina Arniotis, co-chair of Queens Pride. “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.”

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