West Village arrests underscore long-standing tension between residents, LGBT youth

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday March 12, 2009

Bobby Santiago was among the hundreds of winter-weary New Yorkers who flocked to the Christopher Street Pier in lower Manhattan last Saturday to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. The 17-year-old peer educator from the East New York section of Brooklyn described the popular waterfront destination to EDGE as a refuge.

"It's a place you can be around gay people and it's cute," Santiago said.

LGBT young people and others from across the five boroughs and New Jersey have flocked to the piers and adjacent West Village for decades, but some local residents blame them for an increase in crime and a decrease in their quality of life in the gentrified neighborhood.

The arrest of two transgender teenagers earlier this month in connection with a string of purse snatchings and credit card thefts outside the Archive corner of Christopher and Greenwich Streets underscores these ongoing tensions. Eric Weigle, president of the Grove Street Block Association, further complained some of the LGBT young people routinely disrupt his neighbors in the middle of the night, urinate in building lobbies and have sex underneath their stoops.

Weigle stressed he feels he and his neighbors simply want the young people to respect the neighborhood.

"Regardless of sexual orientation, race or whatever, we just get tired of people... having sex under the stoop or peeing in the lobby," he said. "We just want it to stop."

Desire? Marshall, an organizer with Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment (FIERCE), acknowledged the tension that remains between some local residents and some of the LGBT young people who come into the neighborhood. FIERCE remains opposed to the pier's 1 a.m. curfew and what they maintain are rules and regulations that block access to the area.

"When we say community, we mean everybody who accesses the park. That includes LGBTQ youth. That means local residents. That means people from outside the West Village."

FIERCE members have also called for the construction of a 24-hour LGBT center on nearby Pier 40. And they released a series of recommendations at an event at the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street on March 9 that, among other things, call for more community involvement in the Hudson River Park's ongoing development.

"When we say community, we mean everybody who accesses the park," Marshall said. "That includes LGBTQ youth. That means local residents. That means people from outside the West Village."

Marshall declined to answer questions about the two teens arrested in connection with the robberies outside the Archive, but some of the young people who come to the West Village conceded their counterparts sometimes cause problems.

"There are a lot of young people [who are] gay who don't know how to carry themselves," America, 22, of Harlem said as she and a friend talked on the Christopher Street Pier last Saturday afternoon.

Santiago added fights sparked by jealousy and other factors are not uncommon. He said he feels local residents are justifiably angry.

"It's their home," Santiago said. "Of course they have the right to be upset over fights."

Weigle again asserted he and his neighbors are not opposed to LGBT youth in the West Village. He described the neighborhood as one of the "most tolerant places in the world." Weigle added, however, FIERCE and other groups should work with the teens to ensure they respect the neighborhood and its residents.

"They need to come up with some dos and don'ts with what you do in the community-and point out all the things you can do," he said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.