Youths Demand Safe Space on Pier

Activists cite threats to queer minors as need for late-night park access

It rained on the FIERCE! parade last Saturday, but that didn’t stop about 100 queer and transgendered youth and their allies from marching and chanting with banners flying from Christopher Park in Sheridan Square to Weehawken Street just off the Greenwich Village waterfront.

The group—Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment—called for an end to the l a.m. closing of Hudson River Park and Pier 45, which they call a “curfew,” and an end to Operation West Side, the special post-midnight patrol of the West Village that the 6th Precinct instituted this summer. The initiative came in response to a fatal stabbing on West Tenth Street in July resulting from an argument between a man and a group of transgendered youth and also because of complaints by local residents about rowdy youth and prostitution.

“We’re here, we’re queer, give us back our fucking pier,” was one of the chants at the rally that began at 4 p.m. in Christopher Park just opposite the Stonewall Inn where the lesbian and gay rebellion began in June, 1969. About three hours later after a closing rally on cobbled Weehawken Street, demonstrators went on to the Brecht Forum on W. 27th Street for a follow-up event.

A police detail on foot and in two patrol cars, one ahead of the march and another bringing up the rear, kept the parade moving along what has become a favorite route for FIERCE! marches.

“Where are we supposed to go when you close the pier?” demanded Justin Anton Rosado, one of the speakers at the opening rally in Christopher Park. “If you are too young to go to the clubs and bars or you have no money, where else are you supposed to go? Many of us cannot return home to our families and neighborhoods because of mental, verbal and physical harassment because we are queer,” he said.

Chris Martin, a spokesperson for the Hudson River Park Trust, which administers the five-mile riverfront park, including Pier 45, said later that the park authorities follow the city practice of closing all parks at1 a.m.

In response to charges by FIERCE! activists that the Trust would have required the group to pay $25,000 to hold the final rally and an evening event on Pier 45, Martin said that was the regular rate for a permit to use Pier 45 for an event. Use of the pier for a political rally is free, he said, but a permit is required. FIERCE! had advised the Trust one week earlier that it wanted to rally on Pier 45. But Martin said the group had not faxed the complete application to the agency until the Friday before the rally—not giving the Trust time to decide.

“They’re welcome to apply for a political rally like any other group but they shouldn’t do it at the last minute,” Martin said.

Members and supporters of FIERCE! also demanded a drop-in center for homeless and queer youths who have gravitated to the Village waterfront for decades. Neutral Zone, a drop-in center on Christopher Street closed about ten years ago, demonstrators noted. Since then, there has been no place for transgendered and gay street youths to get services such as safe-sex information, HIV counseling, and food, activists said. Neutral Zone was force to close after neighborhood residents complained that the site increased violence and prostitution in the area.

Bob Kohler, a Stonewall veteran, marched on October 10 in solidarity with the young demonstrators, as did Mel Stevens of ACT UP and legal observers from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an advocacy group for the transgendered community.

Earlier this month, several youths were arrested after street fights at Seventh Avenue and West 4th Street, incidents which Ruth Kuzub, owner of Silversmiths, a West Fourth Street shop, attributed to large crowds of youth going to the subway after being turned out of Pier 45 en masse.

“If the pier were left open later, the kids would drift away gradually instead of descending on Fourth Street all at once in a mob,” she said in a phone interview this week.

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