Black Lives Matter protests held in Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove

This weekend, Black Lives Matter marches were held in Cherry Grove and the Pines, two gay beach enclaves on New York’s Fire Island.Fire Island is a predominantly white vacation mecca, and critics have called out the community for being unwelcoming to LGBTQ people of color.Keith Goudeau, who is white, organized the Cherry Grove rally and said it is everyone’s responsibility to dismantle systemic racism, “including predominantly white communities.”In the Pines, where nearly 500 people took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, organizers raised donations in the six figures, including $1,000 in cash.”It’s a pimple on the butt of the access to capital out here,” organizer Victor Jeffreys said. “They should be giving so much they can’t afford to come to Fire Island.”Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Protests against police violence and the killing of George Floyd rocked every corner of America over the weekend, including New York’s gay getaway of choice: Fire Island.On Saturday and Sunday, demonstrations on the barrier island off Long Island ‘s south shore carried the message that “Black lives matter” onto boardwalks and beaches that have welcomed queer vacationers since at least the 1950s.On Saturday, between 80 and 100 people marched through downtown Cherry Grove, taking a knee for a moment of silence.Carrying signs and shouting “No justice, no peace!” the crowd made its way to the dock for a prayer.

Protesters in Cherry Grove take a knee at a BLM march on June 6, 2020.

Greg Scarnici

Fire Island has never had a sizeable Black community. And while the Fire Island Black Out party welcomes queers of color to the Pines most summers, many critics have noted that the ugly racial dynamics at play in the gay community can be amplified on the island.

“These places don’t always feel welcoming to everyone, and particularly not to black and brown people,” Tomik Dash wrote this week in his Guide to Being an Anti-Racist in Fire Island.—Saeed Jones (@theferocity) June 19, 2016Keith Goudeau, who is white, organized the Cherry Grove demonstration. He said it was everyone’s responsibility to dismantle systemic racism, “including predominantly white communities.” “White people of this country have failed to successfully address this issue, which they have created, for far too long,” Goudeau added.

Miss Davida Jones hold up a ‘Black lives matter’ sign in Cherry Grove, on June 6, 2020.

Greg Scarnici

Goudeau’s wife, Dawn Wilson, read the names of some of those lost to police brutality and racial violence, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Ahmaud Arbery.”This place is known for its acceptance and I really felt that pushing the conversation about racism could have positive benefits for other residents,” Goudeau told Insider. “It’s important that all voices are heard and recognized.”

While a few onlookers weren’t particularly receptive to a BLM march, Goudeau said, “the overwhelming majority were supportive and grateful.”The next day, a separate march was held on the beach at Fire Island Pines, another gay resort area separated from the Grove by a small expanse of undeveloped dunes.Sunbathers looked curiously as hundreds marched on the sand, carrying banners that read “What have you done with your white privilege today?” and “White silence equals Black death.”Some spectators took pictures, others joined in.

The Pines is traditionally a playground for wealthy gay white men, and most of the faces at Sunday’s march were white, too.”I think it’s great there’s a protest action in the Pines,” Seneca Mudd, an African-American marketing executive, said at the gathering. “It’s largely symbolic — but demonstrations are always mostly symbolic.”Mudd, 48, said he was glad the march was peaceful “and not policed in a militarized way.”Fire Island is patroled by the Suffolk County Police Department, which typically only interacts with locals and vacationers to issue citations for public nudity or noisy parties.Goudeau invited SCPD officers to the Grove rally, because of concern for the safety of participants, and called them “a great ally” to the island’s LGBTQ community.

AJ (right) and a friend carry a “Black trans lives matter” banner on the beach, on June 7, 2020.

Dan Avery

But AJ, a 30-year-old from Brooklyn, said he came to the Pines march because Black trans women are disproportionately harassed by police.

“But they’re also the ones most in need of protection,” AJ, who carried a “Black trans lives matter” banner, told Insider. “They’re targeted, beaten, and tossed aside.”At the end of the gathering, participants took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck.The trail of protesters stretched almost the full mile length of the Pines.

A Black Lives Matter protest on the beach at Fire Island Pines drew close to 500 demonstrators on June 7, 2020.

Issac Namdar

Two friends, Victor Jeffreys and Angelo DeSanto, organized the Pines’ Black Lives Matter march.From the germ of an idea on Thursday night, the pair sprang into action and organized a march in less than 48 hours, drawing almost 500 people onto the beach.

To get the word out, Jeffreys and DeSanto put a flier for the rally as their Grindr profile picture and started messaging everyone within range. “I’ve never gotten so much attention on Grindr,” Jeffreys said.Participants were encouraged to make a $20 donation to go to Black Lives Matter, the Center for Police Equity, and Black Visions Collective, a Black, trans, and queer-led organization in Minneapolis.While DeSanto and Jeffries are still calculating the amount given, by Monday the total was in the five figures. That includes about $1,000 in cash they received on the beach.”One guy handed me a twenty and said, ‘Here’s my white money,” Jeffreys told Insider. “I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean but I was happy to take it.”

But, he said, it was only a start.

Angelo DeSanto (left) and Victor Jeffreys at the Pines’ BLM march.

Jory Stiefel

“Let me be clear: We raised a lot of money, but it’s a pimple on the butt of the access to capital out here,” Jeffreys said. “We know there’s a lot of money to grab out here. They should be giving so much they can’t afford to come to Fire Island.”Initially, DeSantos said, he had concerns the march would wind up looking like a parade. But Jeffreys, a person of color, said he wasn’t worried about it feeling performative.”It’s not about you feeling good about yourself,” he said. “It’s about extracting capital for a vital cause. I don’t care if you took an Instagram of yourself while we were at the march. Your virtue signaling isn’t my responsibility.”

Demonstrators at a Black Lives Matter protest in Fire Island Pines, on June 7, 2020.

Jory Stiefel

The two protests came just as a feature in the Sunday New York Times style section asked “Is the party over on Fire Island?”

The article characterized the Pines, in particular, as a “hedonistic gay resort” with a “hyper-social and sexualized scene.”But many protesters felt the piece misrepresented Fire Island’s ethos.Writer Greg Scarnici, who attended the Cherry Grove rally and was quoted in the Times story, told Insider he saw “people who love and support one another through times of crisis.””At the march, I saw more than a handful of the lesbians I’ve spoken with, who tended to men who were suffering on the island during the AIDS crisis,” he said. “Once again, and many years later, they were doing what they could to stand up with and for people who are suffering.

Jeffreys also invoked Fire Island’s storied history of activism.”We just lowered the American flag here for Larry Kramer, who also moved things forward in our society,” he said. “Silence equals death is endemic here, and it’s not just for gay people. It applies to Black lives, too.”

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