Arts and Entertainment | Film

GS student focuses on LGBTQ subculture in upcoming doc

Elegance Bratton, a junior in the School of General Studies, was first kicked out of his New Jersey home at age 16. Ostracized because of his homosexuality, he discovered a new sense of belonging in the LGBTQ community on the West Village’s Christopher Street.

After a decade of homelessness, a stint in the Marine Corps as a videographer, and two years of classes at Columbia, Bratton decided to make “Pier Kids: The Life,” a movie documenting the unique subculture of Christopher Street and its piers. He will be launching a Kickstarter campaign next week to raise funds for the project.

For three years after he was first kicked out, Bratton split his time between home and Christopher Street. “I did have access to my mother’s home from 16 to 19, but during those three years, it would be like, ‘OK, a few months I’m not home, a few weeks I am home,’ and it was always centered around this open secret.”

Bratton was kicked out of his home for good after finishing high school. “It was clear to me that whatever I was afraid of on the street was not as formidable as the negativity that was brewing inside. I was more likely to live if I just left than if I stayed, so I just left.”

Bratton’s life on Christopher Street was an ephemeral one. “It was a very varying thing,” he said. “A lot of the time on the street, I would meet older guys, who, you know, they want your body. All of a sudden, you’ve got a new boyfriend and a place to stay. Sometimes I’d sleep outside. Sometimes I’d sleep at school. Often I would go to clubs. I’d go out and dance all night.”

The site of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, Christopher Street is “the most important gay street in the history of gay liberation in the Western world,” according to Bratton.

But Christopher Street is often characterized as having a grittier underside. “The street has been taken over by drug peddlers, prostitutes and marauding youths,” according to the New York Daily News in an article from July 2011. Bratton’s film challenges this view, but doesn't hide the crime affecting those involved in this subculture: the film features an interview with the mother of a hit-and-run victim and a regular to the Pier. He was killed on Eastern Parkway by two hit and run drivers.

Bratton decided to make his film while studying in Puerto Rico with Columbia’s SEE-U fellowship. An Eastern European student came out to him, sparking an urge to revisit and reexamine the subculture that allowed him to define his identity on his own terms.

“It’s the story of queer and transgender youth of color who utilize Christopher Street as a primary identity location,” Bratton said. “By day, it’s one of the most prestigious addresses—zip codes—that you can have in the world, and predominantly, it’s white and upper-middle-class. At night, it becomes home to a transient black street community who hail from the various boroughs, the various ghettos, that surround Manhattan. The point of the film is that they come to Christopher Street looking for a safe place to be.”

According to Bratton, Christopher Street’s community offers such parallel structures to poor homosexual blacks and Latinos who have been marginalized by subcultures that are themselves marginalized.

“In Christopher Street, you have a parallel institution. Christopher Street now becomes Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy. It becomes Main Street in Newark or Jersey City, or any main street in the ghetto ... Christopher Street becomes that.”

“Those who have been cast out of the ghetto end up here,” Bratton said.

arts@columbiaspectator.com 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the hit-and-run victim mentioned in “Pier Kids: The Life” was killed on Christopher Street. The paragraph has been changed to represent the correct circumstances of his death. Spectator regrets the error.

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Elegance Giiavoni posted on

To Whom it may concern,
My name is Elegance Bratton and the article you published completely misrepresents my project. Lines like
But Christopher Street also has a grittier underside. “The street has been taken over by drug peddlers, prostitutes and marauding youths,” according to the New York Daily News in an article from July 2011. Bratton’s film highlights the street’s crime by featuring an interview with the mother of a hit-and-run victim on Christopher Street.

Are problematic in two ways.

1. This gritty underside that you speak of while phrased in salacious and simple terms is true. However, to simply characterize them as " Peddlers, prostitutes, and ,marauding youth" plays into a hyper racist surveillance mentality that my film is meant to challenge. Have you ever heard of stop and frisk? Black folks in this city are abused by aggressive reporting and policing that characterizes behavior in a threatening way to justify hyper imprisonment and seemingly perpetual poverty. Pier Kids is meant to challenge these notions of acceptability which your reporting play into. People who sell drugs, or sex are not just peddlers and prostitutes. They are people first, and often make those choices because of limited options. What we do to feed ourselves, contrary to popular belief, does not define us.

2. Jusheem "Casper Thorne" was not hit and run over on Christopher Street. He was killed on Eastern Parkway by two hit and run drivers. He was a regular on the Pier and what makes his death significant. IS that after he was run over by one car he was alive. A second car ran him over as he was lifting himself up off the ground. This is a question of value of life. No one turned up to report what happened to him. Neither driver cared to stop. The point of my project is to discuss the value of public space. those who require public space to sort out their interior or private selves are exposed to a greater amount of risk. Very simple and very straightforward and a point totally missed by these IVY league geniuses.

Lastly, Not one mention of whiteness which I spoke about to the interviewer extensively. I will follow this up with my film's write up. Jesus...you kids need to be better trained.

Elegance the director

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Anonymous posted on

Hi Elegance, This is Abby, the Arts and Entertainment editor. I'm sorry that you feel you were misrepresented by the article. I've spoken with the writer, and all of the quotes attributed you were verified by him. The paragraph in question was added/reworked during our editing process, and I will address your concerns below.

1. The quote "peddlers, prostitutes, and marauding youth" was written by the Daily News, and you can see the full article link above. It does not represent Spectator's views, but in accordance with our quote policy, is credited to its original source. In the above article, it was used to clarify common perceptions of Christopher Street. Please see above for clarified phrasing.

2. Earlier this afternoon, we posted a correction about the hit and run accident. Please refer to the above correction.

3. As regards to the last part, I leave it to the discretion of my writers what to include in an interview. Given an interview's typical length, it is generally impossible to use every point made.

If you have any further concerns, please address them directly to me at abby.mitchell@columbiaspectator.com

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Elegance Giiavoni posted on

Pier Kids: The Life

Pier Kids: The Life unpacks commonly held beliefs regarding gender and race within communities of color. Our message is simple: Your child is still your child, no matter who they love. This film, serves as a teaching tool that bridges the communication gap between families of Color and their Q-T children. Pier Kids: The Life, through its unflinching depictions and descriptions, engages and arrests viewers who were entirely unaware of this community and “The Life” itself.
Christopher Street, home to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, is a world renowned gay-rights mecca, and its Piers are legendary. However, the Stonewall Rebellion is often presented as a tale of liberation centered on the contribution and legacy of white gay men. These heroes were indeed integral in the forth coming sexual and political revolution. However, there is another side to this freedom narrative. A side that is often overlooked. Sylvia Riviera, a trans Puerto Rican woman and Marsha P. Johnson a trans black woman, initiated the response to unjust policing on that summer night in 1969. If the legacy of the gay white male contribution to sexual liberation is told in the brick and mortar establishments which line Christopher Street, and the complimentary prestige of owning an address in Manhattan's west village. Then our story is the legacy of queer and trans people of color (Q-T community). This is a story told through the continued active participation in public space. The QT community owns Christopher Street.
By day The West Village is overwhelmingly white and upper class, and as the evening comes, Christopher Street and the Piers become home to a microcosmic black street community. Pier Kids are a populous yet invisible network. The Q-T community represents nearly 4000 of registered homeless LGBT youth in New York City. These youth are predominantly Black and Latino.
Left to wander and with little legal economic opportunities, many Pier Kids' lives are beset with limited and harrowing options. Everyday money must be made if only to make it through that very same day and have train fare to return tomorrow. However, all is not lost. New families are formed, and hope can be found in the shadows of abandonment, neglect, and abuse.
Some folks like Krystal,24, arrive in the West Village after years spent searching for a home, a family, and literally a place to become herself. Others, like Casper, chose to make Christopher Street their home away from. For Casper, the "W.V." or the West Village was a place to reawaken and re-imagine himself out of the glare of his black community's scornful gaze.

DeSean, 21 has been homeless for the past three years, and DeSean declares the Pier a “playground, office,” and a “living room.” Together these three stories overlap at the intersections of love, family, exploitation, and hope. These are some of the faces behind the thousands of Q-T youth who struggle in New York City, to triumph over homeless.Pier Kids are public characters who inhabit the intersections of race class, sex and gender. They are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to each other. Pier Kids are our gay children. It truly is a "universe within a universe and a world within a world" (Cheetah: Interview 1).

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Elegance Giiavoni posted on

Abby,
Thanks for the response. I appreciate the due diligence, and thank you for the write up.

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