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The West Village Changes, the Christopher Street Pier Remains

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Louis Soto. | ALICIA GREEN
Louis Soto. | ALICIA GREEN

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 of New York’s queer youth found acceptance without demands and struggle. Frequented decades ago by young people for whom the 1969 riots were fresh in their memory — and known today as Hudson River Park’s Pier 45 — the Christopher Street Pier, at West Street and West 10th Street, still functions as a second home to gay youth, especially those of color. But the park draws more than just the youth of the moment. Recently, several visitors there, wide-ranging in age, spoke to me about why they go to the pier.

A Hudson River refuge is still special in the lives of LGBT people, many young, many of color

Louis Soto

18, born in Brooklyn

and now living in the Bronx

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, “Okay, 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.

Gay City News: What do you like to do at the pier?

Louis: 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

GCN: Have you met new friends?

Louis: 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. | ALICIA GREEN
Ashanti. | ALICIA GREEN

Ashanti

60s, a native Philadelphian

in New York City for 35 years

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

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

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

GCN: How often do you come to the pier?

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

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

Ashanti: 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.

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

Ashanti: 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. | ALICIA GREEN
Jamel. | 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.

GCN: How often do you come to the pier?

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

GCN: Have you had any good memories here?

Jamel: A couple years ago, I met my home girl. But I didn’t meet her here, I met her at the Door [a Broome Street youth center in Soho]. 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. | ALICIA GREEN
Alberto. | ALICIA GREEN

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. [Twenty to 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, a lot of stuff. The piers were actually run down. They were all wood, broken. There was a lot of crime, prostitution, drugs. This is really, really wonderful to see the changes.

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

Alberto: 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.

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

Alberto: No. Never. I’m lucky.

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

Alberto: 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 (l.), with his boyfriend Ricky. | ALICIA GREEN
Josh (l.), with his boyfriend Ricky. | ALICIA GREEN

Josh

18, from the Bronx, near Riverdale

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.

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

Josh: 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.

GCN: How often do you come to the pier?

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

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

Josh: 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 is a lot of guys jogging out here that have abs.

GCN: 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?

Josh: Definitely. Even though it’s an area not many people think of, it’s kind of a place where people get to come here. 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. | ALICIA GREEN
Patrick. | 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. 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.

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

Patrik-James: Since college.

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

Patrik-James: No.

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

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

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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