Volume 76, Number 4 | June 14 - 20 2006

Gay Pride

A special Villager supplement

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

Top, Lauren Dinkins, a.k.a. Angel, 18, left, and her girlfriend of almost a year, Tonisha Jones, 17, on the Christopher St. Pier. Bottom, from left, Dominick Martin and Javon Jackson, both 17, and Monay, 16, hanging out by the Christopher St. fountain.

Pier kids tell critics: ‘Back off, this is our place’

By John Koblin

Despite the debate over gay youth in the Village that caused teeth gnashing earlier this year, plus an unseasonably chilly June night, queer boys and girls, spanning the city’s five boroughs, were proudly sashaying and strutting to the Christopher St. pier in numbers last weekend.

Locals groan the gay youth that parachute here by way of the West Village are too loud and splashy.

On the flipside, advocates for the mostly black and Hispanic queer teenagers say they are just embracing a rite of youth.

But after months of back and forth, a temporary resolution was reached in March: advocates for gay youth will encourage self-patrol and residents will keep a close eye on what happens.

So, nearly two months later, are the kids quieting down?

Well, ask a few queer teens and twentysomethings at the pier, and back off.

“Oh, people, please,” said Liz Menendez, 18, waving her finger in frustration. “Listen to me. Just let us be. We’re not hurting anyone, we’re just being ourselves.”

Her friend seconded that.

“Nobody tells us what to do here,” said Eileen Rodriguez, an 18-year-old from Bushwick. “This can’t be like the ’hood where I get in trouble for being gay.”

Some teens interviewed knew about the controversy, others did not.

But the consensus with all interviewed was the same: Don’t bother us.

“The complaints are just unacceptable,” said Riccel White, 18, of Bedford-Stuyvesant. “If you don’t like how we do it, and if you can’t stand the heat, just get out of the way.”

Get out of the way because they say this is their turf and they act like it. While White spoke, her friend, another lesbian, sprawled across a picnic table and dry humped it. At the other side of the table, two teenage black boys sat on each other and fumbled with each other’s belts, shirts and butts.

Soon after, the lesbian humping the table grabbed her sexually charged friend and wrestled him. All the while, the group of four were screaming and laughing.

Meanwhile, White giggled and told a familiar yet compelling argument: We can’t do this in Bed-Stuy.

“We’re just safe here,” she said. “There are no gangs, fights and shootings. It’s just a great public park.”

On the other side of the pier, another black lesbian teenager, Sasha Smith, echoed this. When she’s at her high school in Ozone Park, she can’t tell her classmates she’s gay, let alone flirt with any of them. But at the pier, she can release it all — and so can her friends.

One friend, 17, dressed in a baggy N.B.A. jacket, swigged from a bottle of Bacardi rum and bellowed catcalls to all passing girls. Once she was done with the bottle, she started screaming to her friends, pulled out a cigarette and then threw the bottle into the river.

When Smith was asked about keeping quiet late at night, she said, “It’s not fair to everybody here. Most people don’t get here till late, anyway.”

Smith, like all those interviewed, said she arrives at the pier between 10 p.m. and midnight and goes home at the 1 a.m. curfew. This means that for many of the queer youth the pier is not a place to pregame before a long night out clubbing and barhopping. It is, instead, the place to go, the destination itself.

But that’s also the source of problems. No one seems to care what they do at the pier, but rather, when they leave it and go rollicking down the local streets, waking up and irritating residents.

Even with the added heat to curb their attitude, teenagers at the pier, at least anecdotally, respond to the threats from the locals by shrugging their shoulders.

“This is a safe space where I can hold hands with another girl,” said Sandra Hoffman, 20, from Brooklyn, who bragged to friends that she was suspended from grade school for touching another girl. “This is my home.”

Certainly, not every teen or twentysomething in the park is filled with a rebellious spirit. Some are just quiet strollers, hanging by themselves or with just a friend, quietly taking in the night.

But even the most reflective and soporific queer men and women emphasize that the pier’s place is necessary — even if it’s a headache to some.

“I think a lot of the complaints are justified,” said Dwight Allen O’Neal, 22, from Washington Heights. “But I disagree with those complaining. It can get unruly, but still, you live in New York. It’s the city that never sleeps for a reason.”

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