Christopher St. Pier is an uneasy paradise for youth

Photo by Lael Hines From right, Jay, Geisha and Jay’s friend from Ohio, said they feel a sense of community on the pier.
Photo by Lael Hines
From right, Jay, Geisha and Jay’s friend from Ohio, said they feel a sense of community on the pier.

BY LAEL HINES  |  At noon on a Wednesday, the Christopher St. Pier harbored a peaceful atmosphere.

For some, the sun inevitably beckons them toward the pier that beautifully extends into the Hudson. When walking past the grass, you may observe a young family, an elderly couple, a transgender person or a group of middle schoolers, all basking in the lovely environment the pier provides. With all types of people relaxing in harmony, the Christopher St. Pier fulfills its reputation as a safe, diverse environment.

“It’s like a getaway,” said Ricky, a frequent pier visitor. “It’s a place for everyone to come together and just hang out. Yeah, definitely, all races, ages, colors, sexual orientations can be here without being judged. It’s nice, considering many people in the city are still belligerent and backlash gay people.”

When asked why they specifically enjoy coming to the Christopher St. Pier, most give similar answers.

“The pier is a place where I can be free to be who I am, free from judgment and free to express myself,” said Jay, a 19-year-old of Puerto Rican descent.

His companion, an Ohio native, explained, “In Cleveland, we didn’t have anything like the pier. Everywhere we felt out of place.”

The Christopher St. Pier offers a “safe haven” for L.G.B.T.Q. (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) youth who congregate there from all around New York and the tri-state area.

When asked if they consider this their community, frequent pier-goers Jay and Geisha nodded and smiled in content agreement.

Some L.G.B.T. youth look to the pier as a catalyst for freedom and self-expression. Other L.G.B.T. youth see it as their home, forming their lives around relationships and experiences they find there.

Chuck Taylor, a homeless gay man in his twenties, said, “This is the place where a lot of the gay people who are homeless gather. We’re like a family of some sorts for those who don’t have families. It’s almost like a sense of home. It’s a beautiful thing, you know?”

Despite the accepting positivity surrounding the Christopher St. Pier, the L.G.B.T. youth who gather in the area often feel that there are forces working against them.

For instance, the lights in park’s Village section, including the pier, were out for more than half a year because the park’s electrical system was devastated by Hurricane Sandy back in October. During that whole time, the park closed at dusk. After lengthy repairs, the lights only came back on a few weeks ago.

“When it’s all dark and the lights are out, that’s when it gets bad, more sketchy and more rowdy,” noted the youth from Cleveland.

However, some think it was intentional that the lights were off so long — that it wasn’t really because of the need to stormproof the park’s electrical systems against future hurricanes, as the Hudson River Park Trust says.

Domingo, another homeless pier dweller, said, “It crushed us. I believe they kept those lights out for so long because they didn’t want us on the pier.”

The issues with the lights added to tensions between the L.G.B.T. youth and the Park Enforcement Patrol officers who police the park. Jay, another pier denizen, described his negative interactions with the police.

“Sometimes they’re rude,” he said. “Once I asked one of the police officers for directions and he just completely ignored me when he saw the rainbow badge on my arm.”

Jamie, another homeless gay youth who frequents the pier, said, “The cops come around here and look at us funny. We have to be quiet because if we say anything, that’s when they start getting really aggressive. They may come over and say, ‘Where are the drugs, guys?’ They have no evidence; they just harass us based on things they believe are going on.”

After the murder of a gay man, Mark Carson, on Sixth Ave. and Eighth St. last month, police numbers in the area were increased, which the L.G.B.T. youth on the pier actually disliked, since they felt it only put them under more pressure.

David Poster, president of the Christopher Street Patrol, however, acknowledged and defended the park officers patrolling the park.

“The L.G.B.T. youth come down to the Village and they think they can do whatever they want,” Poster said. “This is a behavioral issue. We have a major problem here. They come down here and act very unruly. It has been a serious problem for many years.”

Another source of friction for the youth is the recent establishment of a new restaurant at the foot of the pier. The restaurant’s owner, native Dubliner Paul Hurley, assured that there have been no issues with the L.G.B.T. homeless youth.

“As soon as they put the tables up, they move away,” he said. “We have no problems at all with them.”

However, many L.G.B.T. youth are irritated by the new restaurant, since they are forced to move from their familiar picnic tables.

Jamel, a daily pier visitor, said, “It’s like they just keep pushing us back until we are barely even here anymore. They don’t want us to be seen there.”

And there are also divisions within the pier community itself. Geisha, another regular, described the factions.

“You have your high-class gays, and your homeless. I talk to everyone but there are definitely groups.”

Perhaps subsets of a community are inevitable, but Jamie expressed annoyance with the stark divisions among pier-goers.

“Why is it O.K. to be gay if you have money? When you’re gay and in poverty, is that bad?” he asked. “Why is it O.K. to be a successful gay male, but an unsuccessful gay male is an abomination or something? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem fair to me.”