We’re Still Queering the Pier | chelseanow.com

We’re Still Queering the Pier

BY ALICIA GREEN | America’s LGBT civil rights movement may have found its flashpoint at the Stonewall Inn, but it’s at the far end of Christopher Street where many found unconditional acceptance. Pioneered by those for whom the 1969 riots were fresh in memory, the Christopher Street Pier (aka Pier 45, West St. at W. 10th St.) still functions as a second home to gay youth, especially those of color. We recently spoke to members of the community, ranging in age, to find out why they come to the pier.

Louis Soto, 18: “It feels welcoming, like this is home.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Luis, 18: “It feels welcoming, like this is home.” Photo by Alicia Green.

LUIS (18, from the Bronx, born in Brooklyn)

I was just introduced to the pier like last month. It feels welcoming, like this is home. [My] second home basically. In my neighborhood, I feel like “OK, I’m dressed up. Now, I need to leave.” Over here, it’s like “Yes. I get to put on a show.” It’s like all eyes are on me in my neighborhood in a negative way. Over here, it’s like you’re just welcomed.

Q: What do you like to do at the pier?

A: I like to just sit down with friends and ki. Ki is like just get together, talk, just enjoy the time that we have, eat. It’s just amazing.

Q: Have you met new friends?

A: I met friends of friends. It’s a great way to network with friends in the gay community since it is so small. You either come here and see people that you have vibed with before, or people you have negative pasts with, but you know you respect the place and you just chill here.

ASHANTI (60s, native Philadelphian, in NYC for 35 years)

Things have changed [since the late ’70s]. These piers weren’t what they are today. They were raggedy and horrible.

Ashanti, 60s: “Gays aren’t given enough recognition for their innovation.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Ashanti, 60s: “Gays aren’t given enough recognition for their innovation.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Q: What was a typical day at the pier like for you then versus now?

A: The crowds were much more fun. More openness. Just enjoying their lives. Now, it’s a little bit more gentrified.

Q: How often do you come to the pier?

A: I’d say about three times a week maybe. 

Q: What is one of your favorite memories or a good experience that you’ve had coming here?

A: The old clubs [and] bars they used to have here. They’re all gone. The memories are still lingering on, but the clubs are gone. I would say this too: gays aren’t given enough recognition for their innovation. One of the innovative things they started here was the Halloween celebration or festival. Now, it’s been taken over commercially and they do it on Sixth Avenue. Originally, it was the gays who first started it on Christopher Street. I don’t know how many people know that.

Q: How has coming to the pier changed your life?

A: Just meeting all the different types of people here and expanding my mind, and not being so closed-minded to certain things and certain people’s ways of life, especially when it comes to transgenders. I had to become more accepting of them. They have their life to live too. I may not understand it. I understand it a little more bit better today, but back then it was a learning lesson.

Jamel, 21: “I come out here to kiki with the girls.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Jamel, 21: “I come out here to kiki with the girls.” Photo by Alicia Green.

JAMEL (21, from Brooklyn)

I come out here to kiki with the girls. There are more gay people, more open people [than in my neighborhood]. I can come here and express myself, and not be judged.

Q: How often do you come to the pier?

A: I used to come very, very often. Now, I come like once in a blue moon.

Q: Have you had any good memories here?

A: A couple years ago, I met my home girl. But I didn’t meet her here, I met her at The Door [Broome St. btw. Varick & Sixth Ave.]. I had never got her name or number. Then a couple days later, I pumped over here and we ki’d the whole day when I saw her. It was just so fun.

 

ALBERTO (50, originally from Brazil)

It is one of the few existing places where gay people can be themselves. Not just me, but I think people from all ethnicities. [20-30 years ago], I used to come here because there were a lot of blacks and Latinos. People were doing everything you could imagine. Dance, they were doing vogue [and] a lot of stuff. The piers were actually run down. They were all wood, broken. There was a lot of crime, prostitution [and] drugs. This is really, really wonderful to see the changes, how [the pier has] become.

Alberto, 50: “This was taken by gay people first. Then it became a hot spot.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Alberto, 50: “This was taken by gay people first. Then it became a hot spot.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Q: What do you think about residents pushing for an earlier curfew to get the gay youth out of the pier earlier?

A: No. Definitely no. This was taken by gay people first. Then it became a hot spot. Now, we have all of these people who own these buildings and they want us out. We need a space, and this is one of them. We have to reclaim it back.

Q: Have you ever had a problem with the locals here?

A: No. Never. I’m luck

Q: How would you say the pier changed your life?

A: It changed my life because I think it is the safest place to come. Before it used to be after a certain hour you had to leave because you were afraid. But now…I like to come here any time of day.

JOSH (18, from the Bronx, near Riverdale)

Left: Josh, 18 (with his boyfriend, Ricky): “There are a lot of hot guys around here that are shirtless, so some good eye candy.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Left: Josh, 18 (with his boyfriend, Ricky): “Even though it’s an area not many people think of, a lot of my friends, we just come here and chill.” Photo by Alicia Green.

It’s a great view. It’s a great feel. You kind of get the New Yorker look because you get to see the whole city, but also it has some green. There are a lot of hot guys around here that are shirtless, so some good eye candy.

Q: Do you feel comfortable in your neighborhood being gay, or do you feel more comfortable when you come here?

A: More here. It’s a just a place where…you could just be yourself, not really be worried. Up in the Bronx, or at least where I am at, it’s more Latino-based. Homosexuality isn’t as common over there. Over here, at least, I can be here…with other people like me.

Q: How often do you come to the pier?

A: As often as I can. During the summer, a lot more frequently. A couple times a week. During the school year, I’d say maybe about once [or twice] a week.

Q: What is a typical day like at the pier for you?

A: Just walking around, either lying down on the grass, sitting on a bench or standing over here looking at the water. And again, looking at eye candy because there are a lot of guys jogging out here that have abs.

Q: Do you think the pier has changed your life in any type of way? Do you think it’s made you more comfortable being gay?

A: Definitely. Even though it’s an area not many people think of, a lot of my friends, we just come here and chill. We can just be us. We can listen to music out here. Talk about any kind of stuff we want to talk about, different guys we like. We’re not going to get judged by a stranger. Sometimes, some strangers will even join along.

Patrick, 41: “I can remember coming here with a special someone, and having nice times here.” Photo by Alicia Green.

Patrik-James 41: “I can remember coming here with a special someone, and having nice times here.” Photo by Alicia Green.

PATRIK-JAMES (41, originally from Mississippi)

When I was coming here two decades ago, it was very different. They’ve cleaned it up, and switched it up quite a bit. Now they have curfews. It used to be pretty much open all the time. They didn’t close it up like they do now. But the whole neighborhood has been going through a sort of gentrification process over the last how many ever years. Christopher Street, for example. You’ve seen the bars slowly disappearing. Certainly, the bars that cater to gay people of color are mostly gone with the exception of the Hangar, which is still there. In that regard, it’s very, very different. It used to be really gay down to where there was, right at the corner of Christopher Street…a big black gay bar. Not to mention, numerous places up and down [the street]. In that way, it’s kind of changed. But the gay community, certainly the gay community of color, is still regarding this place as obviously a place of interest. They still come and congregate here.

Q: How long have you been coming to the pier?

A: Since college.

Q: Have you ever had any problems with locals here?

A: No.

Q: Can you share a good memory or experience that you’ve had at the pier?

A: I can remember coming here with a special someone, and having nice times here.

 

 

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