A May Day event at the Christopher Street piers will feature a “Pose” costume giveaway and a rally against plans for a beach at Gansevoort Peninsula, which LGBTQ activists are decrying as an infringement on the historic nature of the area as a hub for the queer community.
The event will also shine a spotlight on the movement to comprehensively decriminalize sex work in New York just over a week after the Manhattan district attorney retreated from prosecuting sex workers — though the DA notably did not officially spell a complete end to sex work-related prosecution in the borough.
The event, which is scheduled to take place from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on May 1, is being led by STARR and supported by local queer groups, including FIERCE. Organizers also hope to use the wide-ranging event to educate folks about the late trans icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, as well as the area’s ties to LGBTQ and intersectional history. Organizers are placing an emphasis on using the event to reclaim the space for queer people of color.
The plans for a beach at Gansevoort Peninsula — near Pier 53 on Manhattan’s west side — are being spearheaded by Hudson River Park Trust, which was formed as a partnership between the city and state. The beach is slated to have a green “oasis” and offer access to kayakers and small boats, according to the Hudson River Park Trust, which also notes that individuals will not be allowed to enter the water — unlike most beaches.
Activists feel government officials are moving too rapidly with the beach project — which is propped up by tens of millions in funding — and they hope to at least get the project delayed until after the next city elections.
“We want them to listen and stop and slow down because we know there are other beaches,” said Mariah Lopez, the executive director of STARR, who is instead encouraging folks to visit actual beaches — such as Coney Island — where folks can go into the water. “There is no need to rush. We think this is showing their hand and it is a vanity project.”
Mustafa Sullivan, the executive director of FIERCE, echoed Lopez’s sentiments and told Gay City News during a recent interview that his organization is especially opposed to the beach in light of what he described as the city’s “empty promises” to queer young people who have been displaced across the city.
“We still haven’t seen investments in the city after they claimed they were going to help support youth programs; they never did that,” Sullivan said. “They claimed they were going to create LGBTQ community space; they never did that. Now they’re opening a beach in the same area they could easily be supporting youth programs and expanding drop-in centers.”
Anika Dorsey Good, who is Johnson’s great niece, told Gay City News that she would like the space for the beach to instead pay tribute to Johnson and serve as a safe space for locals.
“As Marsha’s great-niece, I would love to see my beloved commemorated and remembered on that pier,” she said. “With close proximity to the village, I would hate if the beach overshadowed the rich history connected to the LGBTQ+ movement. Moreover, we want to ensure the pier remains a safe, welcoming, and inclusive area.”
A spokesperson for Hudson River Park defended the beach plan, saying it has been in the works for years.
“We are very much aware of the historical significance that areas of Hudson River Park hold for members of the trans community, including, of course, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson,” a spokesperson for Hudson River Park said in a written statement. “Over the years, we have worked constructively with STARR and FIERCE and value our working relationship with both organizations. As we noted to STARR recently, a shoreline beach has been planned for the southern edge of Gansevoort Peninsula since before even Hudson River Park’s founding in 1998 and the plans for the public park now moving forward were the subject of numerous and widely publicized public meetings and discussions, which helped directly inform our final design. Historically, the site of the beach along with the rest of the Gansevoort Peninsula was controlled by the City’s Department of Sanitation and inaccessible to the public, so we’re really looking forward to opening up this long-inaccessible space to the public as a beautiful, inclusive and welcoming public park.”
Meanwhile, the “Pose” costume donation, which is a part of “Marsha’s Closet,” will feature robust clothing options for folks in need — and it is coming at a timely moment. The groundbreaking FX show is slated to return on May 2 for a third and final season after capturing the attention of viewers near and far for two seasons.
“”It’s a beautiful thing when the community comes together to give back,” former Bronx City Council candidate Elisa Crespo told Gay City News. “Marsha’s Closet is yet another example of STARR’s long tradition of organizing in a meaningful and intentional way.”
The planned May 1 event is also timely in light of the growing momentum behind the movement to decriminalize sex work in New York — and advocates hope these festivities can bring even more attention to that effort. Earlier this year the state repealed a discriminatory loitering law known as a ban on “Walking While Trans,” and several state lawmakers have signed on to the “Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act,” a bill that would fully decriminalize sex work in New York City for all parties involved in the consensual sex trade. That measure first introduced in the State Legislature in 2019, but has yet to gain traction in either house.
Advocates have long stressed that full decriminalization is necessary to prevent unnecessary police interaction with sex workers and make it easier to combat trafficking.
Among other elements, organizers said the event is slated to have free personal protective equipment, food, interactive art, and a “Make your own Marsha crown” station.