As I am getting ready to leave Los Angeles to attend New York’s Black Gay Pride, Pride in the City, I received the following information in an email from my good friend Keith Boykin. Looks like it’s time for another Call to Action…
DEVELOPING STORY — U.S. Park Service officials are trying to put the brakes on one of the biggest activities for this weekend’s black gay pride in New York City. Every year for the past 5 years, thousands of black gay men and lesbians have convened at Jacob Riis Beach for a Sunday afternoon festival as part of the annual Pride In The City weekend. The events have taken place peacefully and without incident every year. But this year, park officials who administer the beach are trying to halt the celebration.
People Of Color In Crisis (POCC), a local AIDS organization that hosts the weekend, has been engaged in a 6-month back-and-forth discussion with park officials to secure a permit for the annual Sunday afternoon beach party. But late this afternoon, POCC received a letter from city officials that they would not be allowed to use the beach after all, according to Gary English, POCC’s executive director.
Park Service Sets Overly Restrictive Rules
In a letter to English, Park Superintendent Lisa Eckert cited park service violations stemming from previous events as a justification for halting the current event. The previous violations included failure to limit the event to 1,500 people, familure to remove trash, obstruction of the boardwalk, and failure to shut down the event by 9 p.m., according to Eckert.
The park service said that it had spent "countless hours in discussions" about the event and ultimately would only allow it to take place in a very limited rules. The rules would allow POCC only to set up a single tent in the baseball field for HIV testing but would not allow any entertainment or music anywhere on the field or on the beach. Furthermore, the park service imposed a restriction that only 200 people could attend the event at the tent or on the ball field. The park service also instructed POCC to eliminate its scheduled performances and the "hot body contest" set to take place that day. The letter ended with a suggestion that POCC hold the event "some time later in the month."
Park Service Response Unacceptable
That’s an outrage, and the park service officials need to hear from the public that this is unacceptable. How can you limit a public black gay pride event to 200 people, and why is that even necessary? The Pride In The City beach party has been an enjoyable and peaceful tradition at Riis Beach for years, and park officials should not be allowed to stop the show now. As English points out, "There have been no stabbings, no shootings, and no overdoses." In fact, the letter from the park service itself makes no mention of any police incidents or violations at any point during the history of the event.
So what’s this all about? Are the park service officials afraid of having thousands of black people come into this mostly white beach community? Do they care that this event has been going on peacefully for years without any problems? And what would happen if thousands of black gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people simply showed up on their own, which is likely to happen either way?
When POCC first ran into interference on the issue, the group contacted New York City Councilwoman Letitia James and Rep. Anthony Weiner, the U.S. Congressman who represents Brooklyn. James and Weiner intervened on the organization’s behalf, but it made little difference to the defiant park service officials who refused to budge. That’s too bad.
There’s a clear choice here for park officials, and it’s time for the officials to reconsider their decision. I have no doubt that thousands of black gays and lesbians will converge on the beach on Sunday, whether or not the park officials like it. We live in a free country and black people don’t need a permit just to show up at a beach. But here’s the choice. Officials can either help make this a pleasant and organized experience or turn it into a potentially disorderly and chaotic one.
It’s better for the city and the parks department to allow this event to take place under the auspices of an established non-profit organization than to have thousands of angry participants show up at the beach on Sunday. The park service can either do it right and everybody’s happy, or they can do it the wrong way and nobody’s happy. It’s their choice.
To contact park service officials, call or email
U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Superintendent, Jamaica Bay Unit
Gateway National Recreation Area
Headquarters Building 69
Floyd Bennett Field
Brooklyn, NY 11234
(718) 338-3799 phone
(718) 354-4605 fax
Public Affairs Office
210 New York Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10305
Gateway National Recreation Area, Headquarters Building 69
Billy Garrett, Gate Park Manager
Barry Sullivan, Gateway General Superintendent
Statement by People of Color in Crisis (POCC)
August 1, 2006
Dear Elected Officials and Colleagues,
Unfortunately People of Color in Crisis (POCC) has received very disturbing news regarding the Pride in the City Beach Event, to be held on August 6, 2006. I have been negotiating with Jacob Riis Beach officials for the past couple of months around a park permit for our event. Beach officials have not been negotiating in good faith.
The letter you are being faxed is a rejection letter we received today to our park permit application from Gateway National Park. Congressman Weiner negotiated a permit with the beach officials which allowed attendance of 1,500 participants along with HIV testing and having a sound system and stage. Subsequently, we receive a letter stating requirements contrary to the agreement with Congressman Weiner.
Your voice and support is very crucial for obtaining this permit. At the park and beach events, we do our major HIV testing. Particularly, at the beach, we are able to reach out to test Black gay men, who are our target population. The area of the beach where we have been holding our event for the past five years predominantly consists of members from the LGBT community especially Black gay men.
Again for the record, this is our fifth year holding this event at Jacob Riis Beach. There have been no arrests or violence, drug overdoses, rude behavior, etc. In response to allegations in the letter, we picked up the trash; we left the beach cleaner than we found it and we did not obstruct the boardwalk. POCC and the Pride in the City coalition of HIV/STI testing agencies are leaders in the field of HIV prevention. Last year, over the Pride in the City weekend, we tested over 300 individuals for HIV/STI and educated thousands more on the importance of HIV/STI prevention.
We are perplexed at the harsh and unreasonable position that the Gateway National Park officials have taken against us. Last year’s negotiations were rocky as well. Beach officials locked the public restrooms because they felt the Black gay men at the event would do “hanky panky” in there, so we had to supply portable bathrooms. It saddens us to have to confront racism and homophobia, during this time when we should be celebrating the Black LGBT community. As members of the LGBT community, we pay our taxes. We have the right a right to use Riis Beach in a very responsible way. Our past five years of having our event there has proven such. Your voice and support is very crucial in making this event happen.
Statement by Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD)
National Park Service
KO’s Pride in the City Event at
Jacob Riis Beach
Harlem, New York City – In a stunning reversal, the National Park Service, a division of the United States Department of the Interior, has refused to issue a permit to People of Color in Crisis (POCC) for its heavily promoted Pride in the City event at Jacob Riis Beach on Sunday, August 6th.
In a letter to POCC Executive Director Gary English dated August 1, 2006, Park Superintendent Lisa E. Eckert cited failures to limit the event to 1,500 people, failure to remove trash, the obstruction of the boardwalk, and failure to shut down the event by 9 p.m.
Reacting to the news, GMAD Executive Director Tokes M. Osubu stated “I have been to every single Pride in the City event at Riis Beach for the past five years. What I’ve experienced was hundreds and hundreds of Black gay brothers and sisters having a great time and being themselves. Were some folks loud and outrageous? Of course! But we always prided ourselves in how we respected our hosts (both POCC and the National Park Service) by cleaning-up afterwards and leaving when we were told. If these shortcoming occurred in other years, who was told? Why weren’t deposits withheld?”
Osubu continued “This event has been heavily promoted for months, and many hundreds of people are going to show up on Sunday; there is simply no way, at this late date, to publicize its cancellation effectively. I respectfully submit to the Park Service that they stand a much greater chance of the day turning sour if a thousand folks show up for nothing than if they let the festivities proceed.”
Gay Men of African Descent, Inc. a 501(c)3 not-for-profit agency, is the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the well-being of black, gay men and celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2006.