News » Local

Citations in Fire Island Meat Rack Spark Outrage

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Thursday Jun 26, 2008

With the height of the all too-short summer season less than a week away, the news of possible arrests inside a strip of beach between Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines that has long been a popular cruising spot for gay men sent shock waves through the two hamlets.

The Fire Island National Seashore, which maintains jurisdiction over the Meat Rack, also known as the Carrington Tract, was quick to point out its rangers made no arrests. It did confirm to EDGE, however, they cited two people for disorderly conduct on June 15. Rangers restrained one of these men after he allegedly threw a substance into the weeds and attempted to run away. They cited him for possession of a controlled substance.

Three additional people received citations for disorderly conduct on June 21 for allegedly engaging in sexual activity within view of the trail. FINS spokesperson Paula Valentine categorically denied any raids or targeted policing of gay men inside the Meat Rack motivated these citations. She said the rangers issued them while on what she described as routine patrols-although the first two were issued during an orientation tour for new FINS seasonal staffers.

"They're there to protect resources and protect people," Valentine said. "If they come across people engaged in activities that are inappropriate for a public place, they are going to have to respond to them."

She further noted FINS received additional funds from the National Parks Service to put more rangers on the beach this season. The seashore has also used this money to provide lifeguards on Barrett Beach, additional canoe and guided programs at both Watch Hill and the Sunken Forest and to resurface the boardwalk at Sailors Haven.

FINS again defended its rangers' actions.

"Park rangers check for litter and vandalism and impacts to wildlife," it said in a statement released to journalists after a number of gay bloggers and Web sites began to report on what allegedly took place. "Park rangers are also there to provide first aid and emergency medical services. But when an illegal activity is encountered, they are obligated to do their jobs as federal law enforcement officers."

If they come across people engaged in activities that are inappropriate for a public place, they are going to have to respond to them.

The citations, which many in both the Pines and the Grove initially concluded were arrests, sparked concern and even anger among a number of local residents. The Suffolk County Police Department arrested dozens of gay men during raids in the 1960s on sodomy, indecent exposure and other charges. Local activism eventually stopped these Meat Rack incursions, but these citations brought the issue back to the forefront for some.

"For 40 years, [things have] been running smoothly here," East End resident Philip Otten told EDGE on a recent Tuesday night at Island Breeze in the Grove. "People come here because of the freedom."

Mid-week patrons at Low Tea and Sip n' Twirl in the Pines also discussed the citations-and resulting hubbub-as they enjoyed their beers and cocktails.

"It's absolutely frustrating," one Pines resident, who identified himself as Andy, said. "This is an adult island. This is an island about non-censorship. People want to be free."

FINS acting superintendent Sean McGuinness met with members of both the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association and the Cherry Grove Property Owners Association to address local concerns. CGPOA president Larry Lane said McGuinness stressed to him "the issue is resolved" and "we should not have any further problems."

"I'm satisfied for the moment," Lane said. "We're hoping there will be no further problems."

Valentine further stressed FINS will continue to work with both FIPPOA and CGPOA to respond to any further concerns.

"The key thing is mutual respect on both sides, from every aspect," she said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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