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BY ERICA RAKOWICZ | The Christopher St. Pier, known as a longtime safe haven for L.G.B.T.Q. youth of color, has been threatened in recent years due to the city’s desire for private development on nearby Pier 40, according to members of an L.G.B.T.Q. youth-advocacy group.
FIERCE (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment) opposes private redevelopment of Pier 40, deeming it detrimental, not just to their community, but to the surrounding community as a whole. Private development of the pier would further distance the L.G.B.T.Q. youth from the West Village, they feel.
FIERCE, a membership-based organization, aims to engage lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth of color in a proactive, community-oriented organization. The group stays involved in what’s being considered for the waterfront and Christopher St. by attending Community Board 2 meetings and housing panels, where they inform local leaders of their mission.
Since the redevelopment of the Christopher St. Pier in 2001, police enforcement has increased, which residents appreciate, but which negatively affects the quality of life for the LGBTQ youth, according to FIERCE members.
Right now, the youth organization — like many residents in the area — has concerns about the latest ideas for Pier 40, which include residential housing and a hotel, among others. As of now, these uses aren’t allowed on the pier — but the Hudson River Park Trust and others have been pushing for them.
“It’s not O.K. to put private development before the community,” said Krystal Portalatin, a co-founder of FIERCE. “Mega-development on the pier is not the answer.”
In fact, FIERCE wants to construct something of its own on Pier 40 — a drop-in center.
“When we began planning the 24-hour drop-in center on Pier 40 project, the economy was doing well and we planned to build right away,” she said. “Since budget cuts and changes in the economy, we scanned the West Village for other options for safe places to connect with for L.G.B.T.Q. youth of color.”
With their hoped-for (though not yet approved) Pier 40 project on the back burner for now, FIERCE is instead working toward a new Safety Zone Initiative.
This initiative isn’t a substitute for the 24-hour drop-in center, but an additional service for L.G.B.T.Q. youth.
The upcoming push for the Safety Zone Initiative doesn’t require the building of new facilities or structures, but the use of existing ones, like local businesses and churches. Ideally, Safe Zones will be scattered throughout the West Village, opening their doors to the gay youth for a sense of security.
“The Safe Zones are for L.G.B.T.Q. youth to seek shelter when situations of violence or harassment occur. They can receive referrals in the space and crisis support. It’s not a drop-in or hangout spot,” Portalatin said.
FIERCE members often feel unsafe in their own homes, at school or in their neighborhoods. Safe Zones would eliminate this feeling and integrate the members into the community and with its local business owners.
FIERCE is currently meeting with local business owners to explain the initiative. Portalatin hopes that by building this relationship, local businesses will open their doors to L.G.B.T.Q. youth of color and welcome them into a Safe Zone, in case they’re feeling threatened or uneasy throughout the day.
FIERCE hosts panels to try to address local business owners’ concerns and help educate them on FIERCE’s mission. The organization has found that some merchants are willing to take the next step and propose opening their doors for Safe Zones, while others support the idea but have yet to establish their locations as Safe Zones.
Many FIERCE members report feeling harassed throughout the day, either by members of the community or police.
Along with other organizations, FIERCE is also involved with Communities United For Police Reform, a campaign to stop discriminatory police practices. The common ground among the campaign’s members is the desire to end racial profiling.
Since the recent public attention surrounding stop-and-frisks, a policy allowing police to stop and search anyone who they deem looks suspicious, L.G.B.T.Q. youth of color say they are feeling especially targeted and want to find a calm place to be themselves without police scrutiny
The Sunday Father’s Day March Against Stop and Frisk on Fifth Ave. addressed the issue and highlighted the concern, primarily of young black and Latino men, of being targeted.
Portalatin stressed that the community should understand that people of color also identify with the L.G.B.T.Q. community — that they’re not always two separate identities.
To keep a fresh perspective, a question tossed around at FIERCE is, “How do we build relationships so that tension is not the norm?”
The group is constantly concerned about avoiding separation from the surrounding community and about displacement from their West Village stomping ground. This pushes them to strive for a sense of unity with the neighborhood to “break through the tension.”