overview

The beaches, boardwalk, and parking lots of South Beach have been Staten Island’s most popular LGBT cruising areas since at least the 1960s.

At times these have been contested grounds, where members of the community have been subject to bias attacks and robbery and been targeted for arrest during periodic police crackdowns.

Header Photo
Credit: NYCgo.

History

In the 1930s, the beaches of South Beach and Midland Beach on the eastern shore of Staten Island became a public park with a new 2.5-mile boardwalk named for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, in conjunction with the construction of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and Staten Island Expressway, the beach and boardwalk were redeveloped with new parking lots.

Within a few years, the eastern shore beaches, boardwalk, and parking lots, particularly in South Beach and Ocean Breeze, became popular public social gathering places and cruising areas for the LGBT community. According to their minutes, the New York Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis gathered there for a beach day during the summer of 1964. In the early 1970s, the future writer Michelangelo Signorile came out in South Beach where he would meet other adolescent boys under the boardwalk for “hours and hours” of “steamy sex.” Staten Islander James Hanlon, who was a student at Staten Island Community College during the early 1970s, recalls that men gathered in the parking lots in South Beach near Sand Lane and Ocean Breeze after the bars had closed, often going off to the beach where they would sometimes build bonfires.

At 17, Signorile became one of the “car people” who cruised the South Beach parking lot near the boardwalk. This was considered safer than meeting under the boardwalk, where there were frequent attacks from homophobic teenagers wielding baseball bats, but the parking lots were far from safe. Over the years, there were many robberies and assaults. During a horrific incident in 1986, a man was dragged from his car, beaten with a tire iron, locked in his trunk, driven across the island, and threatened with death. He managed to escape and his attackers were arrested and sent to prison, but four years later, two of the attackers were responsible for the most notorious gay hate crime in Staten Island’s history, the murder of Jimmy Zappalorti.

In addition to violence, the gay men who frequented South Beach also faced periodic police crackdowns. During the summer of 1995, plainclothes police officers arrested eight gay men for public lewdness in a two-week period. Lambda Associates, the main LGBT group on Staten Island at the time, protested the targeting of their community and prepared flyers alerting gay men to the police surveillance. Finally, in late 1997, activist Chris Bauer, acting on behalf of Lambda, negotiated an agreement with the police to stop targeting gay men at South Beach, although there were still occasional arrests for public lewdness.

Between 2005 and 2007, the borough’s first LGBT Pride marches and festivals took place on the boardwalk in South Beach and the Midland Beach picnic area, providing, in the words of the Staten Island Advance, “the largest and most public celebration of gay culture seen on Staten Island.“

This entry was written by project consultant Gale Harris.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Works Progress Administration; New York City Department of Parks
  • Year Built: 1935-37; 1954-early 1960s

Sources

  1. “First-Ever Gay Pride Parade Here,” Staten Island Advance, June 2, 2005, A12.

  2. Glenn Nyback, “Under the Boardwalk: Gay Sex, The Beachfront’s Days as a Haven for Anonymous Encounters May Be Drawing to a Close,” Staten Island Advance, May 27, 2007, A1.

  3. Janis Astor del Valle, “Two Men Beaten on Staten Island Boardwalk,” Outweek, April 24, 1991, 18-19.

  4. John Hammond, “New Bias Attack on Staten Island,” New York Native, January 13, 1992, 10.

  5. Lambda Associates of Staten Island (LASI) Papers in the Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian and Transgender (GBLT) Community of Staten Island Collection, Staten Island Museum, boxes 1-4.

  6. Laura Bruno, “Gay Victims of Crime Fear Being Labeled,” Staten Island Advance, February 2, 1987, A1.

  7. “Man Beaten at South Beach: Cops Call It Bias Incident,” Staten Island Advance, September 11, 1995, A4.

  8. Michelangelo Signorile, “Under the Boardwalk,” Outweek, February 4, 1990, 38-39.

  9. Mick Meehan, Staten Island Turns Out for Pride,” Gay City News, June 15, 2005.

  10. “Police Cracking Down on Unseemly Behavior,” Staten Island Advance, August 16, 1995, A4.

  11. “Public Lewdness Charged,” Staten Island Advance, June 16, 1995, A13.

  12. “Sentenced to Prison for String of Robberies: 1 of 3 Defendants in 19-Count Indictment Pleaded Guilty,” Staten Island Advance, July 28, 1993, A5.

  13. “7th Arrest at the Beach,” Staten Island Advance, July 1, 1995, A9.

  14. “South Beach-Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk,” Wikipedia, bit.ly/2U6CkNb.

  15. Tom Berman, “South Beach Attack Called a Bias Crime by Police: Victim Tells of Anti-Gay Slur,” Staten Island Advance, January 2, 1992, A17.

  16. “2 More Arrests Made in Lewdness Crackdown,” Staten Island Advance, June 30, 1995, A14.

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

2 Hylan Boulevard
Alice Austen House
Residences
25 Hyatt Street
Staten Island AIDS Task Force & EAGLE Headquarters
Organization & Community Spaces
55 Merrill Avenue
Alice Austen Public School 60
Cultural & Educational Institutions