Atlantis Alumni

Saturday, September 1, 2007

"Gay Only" Signs In Cherry Grove

While Cherry Grove is today heavily populated by gay men and lesbians, there have always been heterosexuals, both individuals and families, living here. Many prominent family names of presumably straight people dot the history of the Grove including Skinner, Gerodette, Fallon, and Duffy. I'm not sure when the Grove "went gay." Oscar Wilde is said to have visited here in the late 19th century, but I believe that the influx of gay people probably started in the decades preceding WWII and continued after the war. By all accounts, the Grove was well known as a gay retreat by the 1950s. The common understanding is that gay men predominated in the Grove, until AIDS, when the disease took its toll here among the gay male community as it did elsewhere. "The boys die, and the girls buy" is the oft heard saying that marked the relatively recent influx of lesbians to the Grove, a demographic change that did not take place without prompting some resentment on the part of certain established elements of the population. Nevertheless, a recent unofficial census of the Grove revealed that gay male couples still predominate.

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about the still relatively affordable (for a barrier island resort) real estate values on Fire Island, and noted the opening on the island of a high powered real estate office with aggressive nationwide marketing capabilities. The office opened in downtown Cherry Grove. In recent years, a few heterosexual couples have purchased homes in the Grove. A straight businessman reportedly now owns two of the major businesses in the Grove, including the largest bar/disco/hotel complex. The beach has always attracted a mixed gay and straight crowd of sun worshippers in the summer. However, there now appears to be a feeling on the part of some that the Grove is in danger of losing its gay identity, of becoming straight. In recent weeks someone has been writing "gay only" in chalk on the walks around town. A few days ago this slogan was stenciled in paint on several of the walks. It's an ugly slogan that makes me feel uncomfortable, in part because it's just wrong, it's bigoted, and in part because there is a part of me that is sympathetic to the sentiment.

The problem with "gay only" written or posted anywhere in Cherry Grove is that it doesn't pass the simple "apply it to yourself and your friends and neighbors" test. There are many straight Grove residents that are gay supportive good neighbors. "Gay only" is hurtful and an insult to them. Many Grove residents often entertain our straight friends. How will our guests feel when they see their first "gay only" sign? And what of the many straight day trip visitors who visit the Grove? They know that the Grove is a gay community and come anyway to enjoy our bounty along side those of us who are gay and lesbian. Part of the beauty of the Grove is that it is a place where gay and straight people mix amicably. "Gay only" is a poisonous and hurtful slogan and has no place in Cherry Grove. We become what we abhor when we advocate discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Haven't we learned that yet?

I have to reconcile the part of me that wishes that Cherry Grove could remain forever "gay only" with the reality that part of the price of gay rights advancement is at least some degree of assimilation. We are getting what we have wished and worked hard for: equality. As we become equal under the law and in society at large there is arguably less of a need for "gay only" places like Cherry Grove. Perhaps one of the reasons that straight people are buying houses here now instead of gays is that we now have so many other choices of where to live and play. We can go elsewhere and feel comfortable. Many of us are simply choosing among the expanded options available to members of our community, and straight people are filling in some of the blanks here in the Grove.

So, let's get rid of the "gay only" signs and welcome everyone to Cherry Grove. We'll always have our gay history and legacy. Let's not soil our heritage as we move into a new century with new possibilities for our beautiful town.


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