Fire Island has long been known as a vacation getaway for New York's gay men, but the seaside oasis also has a storied history as a destination for lesbians and bisexual women. Now filmmaker Parker Sargent is hoping to chronicle that sapphic saga in the upcoming documentary, Grove Girls: A Tribute to Women, Community, and Equality.
“As a gay youth, I could never have imagined that I’d end up living in a community of LGBTQ people that would not only be my friends, but also act as mentors and muses," Sargent, who previously chronicled the infamous 1976 Invasion of the Pines in her 2016 documentary The Panzi Invasion, explains on the film's Indiegogo page. "I want to explore the influence of gay community and the struggle for women’s equality, through documenting the female history of a very special place called Cherry Grove.”
Gay men first started visiting Cherry Grove in the 1940s, including well-known stars like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Montgomery Clift. In the 1950s and 1960s, queer women began to summer there, as well—drawn by this same drive to find romance, fun, and community. But they faced the same sexism women did on the mainland, including not being able to buy property on the island.
"When I started talking to more and more women, their experience in Cherry Grove sort of mirrored the women's liberation movement in the 'real world,'" says Sargent. "Except this was a real sanctuary of love and nature. Women could come together to openly show affection... but also talk to each other about the issues that they were facing, and the discrimination, and helping each other."
In the safety of the Grove, lesbians could become business owners, entertainers, even fire chiefs.
The town's legacy still thrives today: In 2015, Cherry Grove was designated a National Historic Landmark by the federal government's National Register of Historic Places. Sargent has spent the last several years compiling archival footage and interviewing hundreds of Grove regulars and business owners. The Grove Girls crowdfunding campaign—which aims to cover equipment, marketing, and editing costs—has garnered $3,800 of its $6,000 goal.
Sargent will premiere the doc at the Cherry Grove Film Festival on July 20, and hopes to follow up with several shorts that continue to tell the story of this unique beach community.