Villager photos by Lilly O’Donnell
LEFT: Kevin and Julian on the Christopher St. Pier. MIDDLE: Anuj Persad keeping warm on the sometimes-windswept pier. RIGHT: Michael Beltran, Dwayne Garner and Star Clark on the pier.
Making some noise about the Christopher St. Pier; A safe haven, ‘glamorous stage’ and place to unwind
Interviews and photos by Lilly O’Donnell
Kevin, from South Carolina, and Julian, from Harlem.
VIL: So what do you know about the history of the pier? Its social significance?
J: Well I know that a couple of years ago it wasn’t looking like this. It was just a boardwalk. So I guess it’s nicer now, and safer.
VIL: There’s been some contention in recent years with the residents in the area complaining about noise from the pier. What do you think of that?
J: I wouldn’t doubt it if they do complain about noise, the amount of chaos that occurs around here is way absurd.
VIL: Have you seen chaos here?
VIL: Tell me about it.
J: Well the chaos starts in the ballroom scene and then they bring it out here cause this is where they’re eligible to express themselves amongst all things and not be limited to it. So they come out here thinking that they can top everyone or thinking that they’re the baddest at the dances that they do. Cause you know, vogueing is very big now. That’s something that a lot of people fight about, cause you know, there’s titles in there. It goes a long way within the scene. It doesn’t really go too far anywhere else.
VIL: So that leads to drama out here?
J: Yes. That and I guess the drug use. I see why they would complain.
Michael Beltran, from Brooklyn, and Dwayne Garner and Star Clark, both from Manhattan.
VIL: So how long have you guys been coming and hanging out at the pier?
MB: Well we’ve been here since 4 o’clock. But in the gay community, I’ve been coming down here since I was 16 and I’m 19 now, so that’s three years.
DG: Eight years.
VIL: Let’s start off with a story. Can you tell me something interesting or crazy that you’ve seen down here?
DG: Well when I first came down to the park, the pier was under construction, and the city was trying to close it off for only the residents here, and as far as the gay people on Christopher St… . I remember there being a protest about saying ‘We’re here, we’re queer, so give us back our pier!’ Way before my time, the pier was open to everyone that was part of the L.G.B.T. community.
VIL: Well there’s still a lot of discussion about that, about whose pier it is. What do you think about attempts to limit its use?
DG: I mean, I totally understand it, they pay a lot of rent over there. And a lot of people who come over here are less fortunate, not all, but a lot are less fortunate, you know, from a lot of nonprofit organizations, a lot of shelters, group homes. And they don’t have a place to express themselves other than the pier, where they’re surrounded by other people that remind them of themselves. Not everybody’s blessed with the knowledge and maturity to know how to conduct yourself on the street. A lot of times the residents will be out here with their children, walking their dogs, and you have the young L.G.B.T. delinquents sitting here making a whole bunch of unnecessary comments and making them feel uncomfortable. I live in Harlem, and I feel personally like my sexual preference isn’t accepted at all, so I know what it’s like to have to live in a neighborhood where when you walk to the subway or whatever you have to be called this, that and a third. So I could understand. If they want to close it off to only them I understand it, I don’t agree.
VIL: That’s interesting, I haven’t thought of it the other way around. There’s a lot of talk about kids who come here because they don’t fit in in their own neighborhoods, so they come here because they feel safe and comfortable, but then there’s the idea that the same could be happening here to the residents.
MB: I disagree. You’re my sister and I love you, but I will say that you can pay however much rent you do pay in the area, but that shouldn’t have to deal with you trying to take over the pier. Don’t close this off. This is a very public area, just like every other area in New York City. And if the majority of the people walking around the pier happen to be gay, that doesn’t mean you have to exclude us just because you feel uncomfortable. No matter how much money you pay for rent, that has nothing to do with what we do. We have Park Patrol, they’re there to create those boundaries and set those limits and keep people in check. As long as you’re doing something legal and safe and you’re having a good time, I feel like that shouldn’t have to do with the neighbors. I mean, yeah, we all have to have that level of respect, it does get a little crazy because us gay people are loud, it’s just in our blood. We do get loud after coming out of Chi Chiz and after having you know, a glass or two. But nevertheless, we should have full access to the pier. This is a platform for the more glamorous events that happen in the gay community. This is where you meet people and learn so many things. You can learn how to vogue here, there’s always people vogueing on the second pier. You learn about things you never knew. Like when I first came to the pier, I didn’t know guys dressed like girls in public, and look at me now, I’m damn near female! To each his own. If you don’t feel comfortable around us you just can’t deny us entry to the pier. Who are you? Are you the mayor?
DG: I think you got it twisted. I really meant that I can relate to them. I don’t agree with it. You made a very good point, there is security out here. I think whoever is making a fuss about it, I think the issue is deeper with them. I think they’ve had an experience that they just can’t get over and they have a grudge against all gay people. And being that they live in the West Village where most of us migrate, they live in constant fear. I can relate to the constant fear, but I can’t relate to shutting down the pier to a whole community.
SC: This is just an environment to have fun, it should be open to everyone.
VIL: Well, a lot of complaints are coming from the fact that at the 1 a.m. curfew everyone leaves all at once and there’s a lot of noise. So one suggestion was to have the pier be open 24 hours, or at least extend the curfew to 4 a.m. Do you think that would help or make it worse?
SC: I think it would be a little hard to keep up with the security. You know how they patrol around here a lot? I think they would need to hire more of that if anything. Cause late hours you don’t know what could happen, honestly. Not just being gay — it could be a lot of activities going on. Perverts, rapists, all types of stuff. That sounds like it could be a good idea, but it’s a work in progress.
DG: No. It doesn’t sound like a good idea. Cause I’m all for gay rights, but I am not for favoritism. Central Park, all parks close at 1 a.m. Why should this one be kept open?
MB: This shouldn’t be the exception, just because it’s known.
DG: There’s people that live on 42nd St. that have to deal with noise 24/7. There are people that live in the Bronx right near the subway that every 15 minutes a subway is passing right outside their window. You can deal with it. Whoever you are that’s complaining, I really encourage you to come out and experience us. It’s been a back-and-forth situation for years. Like I said, eight years ago they were protesting. It’s too much. I think that the city should, like, prepare some kind of educational thing where they can educate the residents about the gay community, the ballroom scene, and maybe there can actually be a conference where both gay and the residents can speak to each other across a table.
MB: Bottom line is that we’re gonna be loud for years and years to come. And that’s something you just can’t change. And the thing is, whatever curfew you put, we’re still gonna all be loud at that time that we’re supposed to leave. So, it leaves the residents with a choice: Stay, enjoy the noise…
DG: Or come out and make it with us.
MB: Yeah! That’s a third choice, cause you could move, too. I mean, it’s been loud for years. You knew what you was getting yourself into when you signed that lease, paying all that money to come live near us, so why you complaining now? I don’t get it. That’s our input. Thank you for this interview, cause you know, to be a part of this, it’s always a pleasure.
Anuj Persad, originally from the Caribbean, now lives in New York and has been coming to the pier for five years.
VIL: What do you think of the fact that there have been noise complaints from residents nearby the pier?
AP: That’s just tragic. It’s a place of quiet, and it’s a haven for many of us. So to think of people opposing that, it’s quite sad.
VIL: You say it’s a haven. What about this spot is special to you?
AP: Well, I’m a beach person and a water person, so being close to the water, the sunset, the view is just unmatchable. It’s a great spot, and it’s in the city, steps away from everything else. When I lost one of my best friends, this is a place I would always come to. This is my escape.