LATEST PAPER
78° Good Afternoon
78° Good Afternoon
Entertainment

'Fire Island' reality show cast member Justin Russo talks gay community's history, more

"RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant Peppermint, left, and "Fire Island" cast member Justin Russo attend the New York City premiere of LogoTV's new reality series on April 20, 2017. The series is set in the Pines community. Photo Credit: Getty Images for VH1 & Logo Communications / Santiago Felipe

"Fire Island" packs a ferryload of drama into one summer house. 

LogoTV's latest reality show follows a group of friends living it up in the hottest gay nightlife summer spot in New York. Queens-based cast member Justin Russo is one of six men who spent the season hanging out in a beachfront home in the Pines, a stretch of bars and luxury homes described by his castmates as being a "gay Disneyland." 

Drinks and drama aside, the Pines holds historical significance for the LGBT community, too. The area served as a haven of sorts back before the 1969 Stonewall riots and has been referred to as being "to gay people what Israel is to Jews," longtime resident Andrew Kirtzman told The New York Times

"[Fire Island] is a place where someone can openly be one's self and not hide behind a false identity to appease anyone," Russo told amNewYork via email. Russo, an inspiration-seeking artist who has lived in Astoria for the past nine years, hoped to find more than just fun on the island. 

Below, Russo chats about Pines history, show drama and more. 

Catch the two-hour premiere of "Fire Island," produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, Thursday at 8 p.m.

Explain what this stretch of Fire Island means to the gay community.

Originating as an artist and actors’ colony in the 1930s, this section of Fire Island was always an outpost for freedoms not found outside of artistic colonies like Hollywood and downtown New York. As queer life began to be persecuted with the onset of morals clauses later in the decade, the LGBT community found itself being pushed further outside the scope of social acceptability. Fire Island became a haven. ... The island still maintains that sensibility. Though sexual openness is more common today, there is still a stigma over identity that isn’t found on Fire Island.

Given today’s political climate, why do you feel it’s important for LogoTV to add this LGBT representation to the mix?

I think it is quite simple: We are human. We suffer, lament, fight, but we also can have fun just like every other community. Why shouldn’t we be granted the same representation on television?

Describe a day on the show for you.

I would typically wake before the rest of the boys, put on some jazz and clean up the house. Often, we’d have friends spend the weekend and by noon there’d be a small poolside party that lingered until the evening. We would usually travel together to Tea, return to the house for dinner and hop around to different parties before bringing the dancing back to our share. In the midst of this, the boys and I would bond over conversation.

Where did you guys typically hang out?

Friday nights were spent at the Ice Palace for Daniel Nardicio’s Underwear Party. The rest of the weekend, were we not at home or friends’ places, we would be at the Pavilion and Sip & Twirl.

Can you share any spoiler-free show drama we can look forward to this season?

The most drama comes from the conflict of having six different personalities rooming together for a summer. Personally, I was very strict when it came to "family time" together and I let the fellas know how an Italian-raised boy reacts when late to dinner!

How did your passion for art mix with your summer getaway? Did the time away stir up any inspiration?

I was fortunate enough to have my artwork featured at The Pines Gallery (owned and operated by Jon Wilner) through the fall. Once I returned to New York, I began a new series of jungle-inspired pinups. I tend to work from happiness, and the summer on the island gave me the push.

Which NYC spots are comparable to the Pines?

Stonewall is at the top of the list. This is LGBT history in the flesh, the bang that ignited the fully fledged fight for gay rights. The West Village as a whole has fostered the LGBT community for decades.

And your personal favorite nightlife spots in the city?

I tend to frequent The Eagle (554 W. 28th St.), especially Sunday afternoons. It’s my happy place. I also spend plenty of time at Atlas Social Club (753 Ninth Ave.). When going out, I aim for parties. Horsemeat Disco is my utter favorite event -- usually held at Output (74 Wythe Ave.); I can’t pass up disco ever. Paradisco at Le Bain (848 Washington St.) is also a frequented event.

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Entertainment photos & videos