Riis Beach is the Peoples’ Beach: Envisioning Queer Health in and with Community

Riis Beach is the People’s Beach engages New York City’s queer communities in a participatory design process to image Riis Beach’s queer pasts, presents, and futures and to advocate for its designation as a historical landmark. In partnership with GLITS (Gays and Lesbians in Transgender Society) and Project Abigail, this series of open workshops supports existing focus groups fighting to preserve the culture of this site, and in so doing, to envision a reality where trans health in community exists at the forefront of queer politics and concerns.

On the heels of anti-trans legislation, work that publicizes and strengthens the existence of liberatory queer spaces must be undertaken with even greater urgency. Long known and loved amongst queer communities as an ecological sanctuary supporting queer being and joy, Riis Beach is and has been a pivotal site of gay liberation for the past 80 years. In the wake of the recent demolition of Neponsit Hospital, the beach faces a moment of critical exposure and existential crisis: the hospital that once buffered it from the surrounding (markedly conservative) neighborhood is no longer there to shield it from view and from jurisdictional changes, beginning a series of transformative process the ending of which is unclear. Its ultimate use and management depend upon decisions made between local communities and visitors of the beach, and several municipal, state, and federal entities. 

Through her activist work with GLITS, founder Ceyenne Doroshow is leading the movement to turn Riis Beach into a historic landmark and to evolve the People’s Beach—a 501(c)3 dedicated to developing use of the land and its conversion into a Community Land Trust. In collaboration with Project Abigail, a not-for-profit design and development organization, GLITS has advocated the site support a wellness facility and that the land be utilized to heal the toxic waste currently on the site and to mitigate ongoing ecological concerns resulting from climate change. A grant from the Taconic Fellowship will fund work to image the future of the site and to continue documentation of the history of the TLGBQIA + BIPOC community at Riis Beach. This grant would not only support radical imagining toward racial justice, but also the intersection of that vision with queerness and ecology in the next 100 years and beyond.

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