Fire Island is a magical place.
After my first trip out to the Pines a decade ago, I remember describing it as "Wonderland" to those friends who had yet to experience it. The moment the ferry slowly pulled into the harbor, I was smiling ear to ear as I watched a sanctuary reveal itself before me. Men were walking hand in hand with no fear of a dirty look or dangerous encounter. Pride flags blew in the breeze from every rooftop. You could dance the hours away into the night and then feel the ocean breeze whip across your face as you traversed the boardwalk home. I came as a 23 year old with a day bag hoping to find a friend to crash with, progressed into a customer of the notorious Botel (a place everyone needs to experience and check off the gay bucket list) and now find myself a share holder in my mid-thirties. I've watched friends become property and business owners and I see the enhancements they bring to our fabled paradise. I hear the laughter of my friends as we have one too many Planter's Punch cocktails at Low Tea and I feel the sadness of an era of men who saw their final sunsets right on the very dunes that I walk on.
It's hallowed ground and pleasure island. It's the lifeblood that gets many of us through the arduous New York City winters.
"So what if slushing ice is pummeling my face, in only a few months I'll be in short shorts on the boardwalk... I can make it... I can make it!"
Throughout my 10 years going to the Pines, the businesses that make up the harbor have seen a number of different owners. Every year, there are new changes and new ideas, and for the most part, I see tremendous improvement and intelligent ideas that draw younger crowds out which will only help the longevity of the island.
Enter Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass. These men own the Out Hotel in NYC and the adjacent XL Nightclub, which in all honesty I have no real familiarity with. I live in the city and so have no need for a hotel and XL nightclub opened its doors with a fairly steep entry fee (an asinine move, if I may say so) and so I never found a need to walk through those doors. I do not know a thing about Weiderpass and all I really know about Reisner is that he left the scene of a car accident that occurred while he was supposedly under the influence, and that a 23 year old bar manager overdosed and was found dead in his bathtub. Do I know the details of either of these incidents? No. Yet, as the old adage goes, where there's smoke...there's fire. Both men also own a decent sized share in a majority of the bars, restaurants and nightclubs that make up the Pines harbor area.
Reisner and Weiderpass found the media spotlight basically blinding them last week when they pulled the ultimate "What were they thinking?" move. The two men hosted a dinner and fireside chat for the notoriously anti-LGBT senator Ted Cruz. Both men claim to have just wanted to bend his ear on marriage equality, yet one can't quite wrap their heads around why they would even entertain a breath that this modern day Anita Bryant would utter. Cruz has not only just recently presented a new bill that would protect states that ban gay marriage but he has also led the fight on basically anything that would make an LGBT citizen feel even an iota of equality in this country. The man is one of the most reviled and dangerous figures in our community. How they were able to physically stomach a meal while in his midst is a complete mystery to me. Many have laid claim that the two men have lobbied numerous anti-LGBT politicians in the past, in order to protect their own wealth and finances.
Well, actions have consequences, and these two have now found themselves and their properties in the midst of a massive boycott. Numerous organizations, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, have pulled events from both the OUT Hotel and XL Nightclub. A Facebook page has garnered thousands of likes in only a few days. I myself have jumped onboard and vowed to not give any money to any establishment that these two men have a stake in.
Here's my problem though...these two men have a stake in my summer paradise. These two men have a stake in what has been a sanctuary to so many. Half of my brain thinks that I need to just stick to my guns and boycott these businesses on Fire Island...which let's face it, are most of them. Half of my brain thinks that I am hurting so many people that have worked so hard to sustain this island and furthered it for the better.
This is basically my gay Sophie's Choice, and I loathe being put into this predicament, but I have arrived at a thought that I think may be our best way to find success within this mess that these fools have created.
We have to boycott these businesses. We have to stand unified and not drop a cent on a vodka soda or 10 dollars on a mediocre hamburger. We have to understand that our dignity costs more than a cocktail or a dance on the dock. The men that built that paradise that we now frequent, fought and died so that we could be afforded the freedoms we have. The soul of the island goes deeper than a tea dance. Every groove on that boardwalk holds our history. Every grain of sand on that beach holds our struggle. We would be spitting in the face of all those who have come and gone before us.
I'm also not a fool and understand that every boycott has to have an endgame. More so, an achievable goal if we are to succeed with this plan.
I am not ready to let these two men ruin this place for me, and so I call for a simple plan of action.
Boycott these establishments within the Pines until the other owners force Mr. Reisner and Mr. Weiderpass to sell their stake in the businesses and get the hell of our island.
We recently saw how powerful a boycott could be with the situation in Indiana. Within just a few days we not only saw them reverse their anti-LGBT laws, but also saw other states mulling the same idea, running for the hills and retracting any language that could be seen as discriminatory.
I don't know about you, but I had no plan within my calendar to visit Indiana anytime soon, but I fought for her and my community within her, as if she were my home state.
Now we must do what feels like the unthinkable. We must boycott the businesses in the place we love and call home, so that we can prove our own self dignity. How can we eagerly await a Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality and also buy a drink/eat a meal that funnels itself monetarily into the pockets of those who do us such harm.
Pressure works. We see it every day. Put pressure on these owners to force Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass to take their money and shares off of our paradise. Bring a "roadie" of booze with you as you head to tea, throw more house parties, anything that allows us both the fun of summer on the island and a clear conscience.
Share this article on all of your social media, make this a part of the conversation and watch how fast Mr. Reisner and Mr. Weiderpass are handed a one way ferry ticket back to the main land before we're even close to Memorial Day.
Then we can sit on the dock, Planter's Punch in hand and watch those gorgeous sunsets knowing we've kept our sanctuary safe not only for ourselves, but for the next flock of 23 year olds with a day bag ready to experience "Wonderland."