Volume 75, Number 25 | November 09 -15, 2005

Villager photo by Talisman Brolin

A young woman came to the meeting to protest the plan to close the Hudson River Park’s Christopher St. exit and redirect park users to other exits.

Gay youth slam Trust’s Christopher St. gates plan

By Daniel Wallace

A crowd of angry gay and lesbian youth packed into the third floor of the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center at Clarkson St. and Seventh Ave. last night for a Community Board 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee meeting.
The youth had gathered in response to an article in The Villager that outlined a proposal by Connie Fishman, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, to barricade the park’s Christopher St. exit at 1 a.m., when the Hudson River Park closes, in order to redirect pedestrian traffic coming off the Christopher St. Pier toward exits at the north and south ends of the park and thus reduce late-night noise and crowding on Christopher St.

But Christopher St. and the Village waterfront have for decades been a safe haven for gay youth, to whom the proposal seemed like a direct attack on their identity. They lined the walls of the small room, standing in a circle around people seated in folding chairs, holding colorful posters with messages like “Fight Against War, Not Youth,” “Queer Youth Unite,” “You Cannot Barricade Our Family” and “Curb AIDS, Not Youth.”

The tenor of the meeting was set when Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the committee, quieted the room in order to initiate the meeting and was shouted down by someone in the back who said: “Who are you? Introduce yourself.”

“That’s just rude,” a committee member beside Schwartz said. “We don’t need fists, or anything like that.”

The young man who had yelled was holding up a clenched fist. A loud murmuring rippled through the crowd. Things settled down and Schwartz directed the meeting through two other items on the agenda before it was Fishman’s turn to speak. The crowd shifted restively on the perimeter of the room. Finally, Fishman stepped forward.

“First,” Fishman said, “as far as the issue that almost everyone is here for: I am personally responsible for the dumb idea that you’re all here to argue about.”

Fishman said that the barricade proposal was a response to complaints by community residents about the droves of youth streaming through the neighborhood after 1 a.m. and making noise. The barricades were an alternative to closing the Hudson River Park earlier, which they didn’t want to do.

“Everybody loves the park,” Fishman said. “What they don’t love are some of the things that happen at night, in their community, on the streets, after the park closes. And that’s what we’re trying to figure out. We could sit in our offices and say, This is not our problem. But it is our problem. We don’t want to be the enemy of one group or another.”

Fishman said the group they were objecting to was not gays and lesbians. If they were talking about New York University fraternity students who were drinking and causing problems, there would be no difference.

“If this turns out to be the dumbest idea,” Fishman said, “I’ll be the first to admit it. But the worst thing to do right now is to pretend like there’s not a problem. We have to see if there’s a way to make the situation better.”

Fishman said the barricades probably wouldn’t work because after kids left the park they could simply come back to Christopher St. A trickle of applause followed her speech.

Schwartz opened the floor for questions.

A seated woman raised her hand. “I’ve been a Village police officer and community volunteer for about 10 years,” she said. “And the only real crime I’ve experienced in this area comes from adults coming out of bars and, as you brought up, N.Y.U. students. In terms of noise, we have problems throughout the city, and it’s usually not dealt with by using barricades — ”

The crowd burst into applause that drowned out the woman’s comment.

“This is a time for questions, not comments,” Schwartz said.

A few other people stood to offer comments but were cut off by a cacophony of shouting. The time for comments would come later, Schwartz said. Someone asked Fishman why the park closed at 1 a.m. Why not keep it open all night?

“The park operates by New York City park rules,” Fishman said. “One o’clock is the latest park closing time.”

A young man wearing tight blue jeans and a red bandana asked if the Hudson River Park was mandated by law to operate in accordance with New York City park rules or if the authorities were choosing to do so. Fishman said the closing time could be changed, but in order to do so a public process, including a vote, would have to take place.

A young girl standing in the back of the room raised her hand. “Excuse me,” she said, bristling with anger. “I just want to know, if you were a young, 20-year-old black lesbian female, who had nowhere else to go” — the crowd began clapping — “and your only safe haven in the city was being closed down, how would you feel?”

Schwartz shouted over the loud applause that followed the girl’s comment. It was a rhetorical question, he said.

“I’m not retarded,” the girl yelled.

“Rhetorical,” the crowd offered.

“Rhetorical, retarded,” the girl said. “I don’t appreciate you coming at me like that because I really want to know.”

“Well I won’t make her [Fishman] answer the question,” Schwartz said.

Following a few more angry questions, Schwartz opened the floor for comments.

Rickke Mananzala, a well-dressed young man who is the campaign coordinator for FIERCE, a community activist group representing gay and lesbian youth, thanked Schwartz and spoke articulately about FIERCE’s proposal to keep the park open until 4 am. This would reduce congestion on Christopher St., he said, because then there would not be an outflow of people leaving at the same time.

After his comment the crowd cheered with prolonged abandon.

Other kids came forward to offer comments about how the Hudson River Park was one of the few places in the city in which they felt safe.

Schwartz invited community residents to speak.

Dave Poster, president of the Christopher Street Patrol, walked to the front of the room, unfolded a piece of paper and read a comment about how residents vehemently rejected the proposal to keep the park open until 4 a.m.

“That would just make it worse,” he said. “We still support the barricades.”

Next Karla Mayol stepped forward. Her voice shook with emotion as she introduced herself as a community resident with a young child.

“You say you want a safe place,” Mayol said, looking over at Mananzala. “Well, I want a safe place too. Last month my husband and I were mugged on Christopher St. He was cut with a razor.”

The room hushed a little as Mayol told her story. She said that she’d seen a 15-year-old boy on the back steps of her neighbor’s house about to have anal sex with a 43-year-old man. Things like this should not happen in broad daylight, she said. She wanted a safe place to raise her son. Her best friend was mugged —

“People get mugged everywhere,” someone called.

“Let her finish,” the crowd yelled.

After the comments, the meeting ended in a tentative ceasefire. Schwartz said another C.B. 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee meeting would be held on Dec. 6 to further discuss the issue and, potentially, to vote on Fishman’s proposal.

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