Videos and photos from massive, mask-less beachside gatherings in the Fire Island Pines have sparked outrage across social media. So, let’s talk about the muscle queen-sized elephant in the room—and the best strategies for harm reduction moving forward.
Thousands of beach-goers descended on the hamlet, a perennial favorite among gay New Yorkers, for the July 4 weekend. On any ordinary holiday, queer revelers partying in the Pines wouldn’t be newsworthy. But these are not ordinary times. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 130,000 Americans and infected at least 2.9 million. In New York City alone, more than 18,500 people have succumbed to the virus. And that’s not even factoring in the other prolonged epidemic our country is reckoning with: racism against Black Americans, with recent incidents of police brutality igniting protests nationwide.
According to multiple firsthand accounts uploaded to social media, Pines party-goers apparently defied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation to wear a face mask or covering in settings where social distancing is impossible. Case-in-point? A “no-phones” house party allegedly hosted by party promoter Jake Resnicow (with a racist doorman to boot).
One vacationer who attended a party at the Meat Rack was allegedly kicked out of his home for endangering his family—including his mother, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Screenshots of his flippant social media posts spread like wildfire on Twitter.
Tensions grew when Corey Hannon, a former flight attendant and Equinox trainer living in New York City, reportedly hit the beach while he had symptoms of COVID-19. On his Instagram Story, he joked that he wanted to kiki, but his body said “nope, not yet...thought the COVID was gone 😭😭😭”
Speaking to NewNowNext, Logan Hardcore, a popular local drag queen who blew the whistle on Hannon and other party-goers putting people at risk, said she “wasn’t surprised” by the chaotic scene in the Pines.
“And that’s the sad part,” she adds. “It just really sucks for the businesses that are already working against an uphill battle that are trying to do the right thing because these people single-handedly could get shit shut down.”
In a video uploaded to Facebook, Hannon claimed the incident was a “misinterpretation” of a tactless joke. Whether or not he’s telling the truth, many are still pointing to the since-deleted Instagram Story as yet another example of queer people ignoring advice from public-health officials to party. But there’s nuance here: According to Jeremiah Johnson, HIV project director at Treatment Action Group (TAG), the outrage at what transpired in the Pines this past weekend is largely being directed at individuals instead of institutions.
“The assumption that a lot of people are having when we’re seeing these gatherings is that they must be stupid, they must be irresponsible,” Johnson tells NewNowNext. “And that might be true to some degree, but it could also be about people being misinformed or buying into different myths that are coming up.”
That sentiment was echoed in a statement from the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association (FIPPOA) condemning the “unexpected parties in our community”—and encouraging vacationers to call 911 if they see large gatherings. The directive was disappointing to many New York-area activists, who are already on-edge after NYPD officers antagonized peaceful demonstrators at this year’s Queer Liberation March in Manhattan two weeks ago.
Many people, including Johnson, also believe policing individual behavior during a pandemic just doesn't work.
In lieu of increased policing, Johnson hopes to see more funding of community-based education initiatives and testing and contact-tracing protocols as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on. He also encourages individuals to direct their anger and calls for change at the event planners responsible for these so-called “rona raves,” not individual party-goers.
“Similar to HIV, we have to keep in mind the difference between harm elimination and harm reduction,” Johnson adds. “I think many of us are gearing our responses to demanding harm elimination—which is impossible from behavior change and is inevitably going to set up some problematic social dynamics—versus harm reduction, which is what a lot of people are engaging right now.”
And Logan, a mainstay in the Fire Island drag scene, believes homeowners in the Pines need to be held accountable.
"I think if they weren’t there and they rented their house, the person that you rented to needs to be fined, and they can’t rent in the Pines again," she says. "There needs to be physical proof that you have been held accountable for something, not just a slap on the wrist."
Chris Rudolph contributed reporting.