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Nudity, homophobia, and the battle for Jacob Riis Park
Nudism and the counter culture converge where beach meets the sea at Jacob Riis Park
Jacob Riis Park, located in the Rockaways in Queens, New York, first established as a park in 1912, has a long history as an unofficial nudist beach. During the 1930s, the beach was informally known as "the people's bath," due to a historic art deco bath house that was first built there in 1932. In the 1950s and 1960s, the beach was a popular destination for members of the LGBTQ community, who faced discrimination and harassment at other beaches. As the decades went by and the beach became more mainstream, Jacob Riis Park became a site for tension of culture clashes.
As at most nude beaches, one issue at Jacob Riis Park has been the tension between nudists and non-nudists. While some beachgoers have embraced the nudist lifestyle and the values of body positivity and self-acceptance, others in the community have been less comfortable with public nudity. A familiar story in the United States.
Jacob Riis Park has been a site of cultural conflict in other areas than just nude sunbathing. The beach has been a popular destination for the LGBTQ+ community since the 1940s, and there have been instances of homophobia and discrimination against gay beachgoers in the past. During the 1960s, many gay men faced harassment and citations from police for alleged violations of bathing suit size regulations.
Jacob Riis Park is just one example of anti-nudity ordinances and views being used to target members of the LGBTQ+ community and limit their civil rights. Many of these ordinances have been selectively enforced to target queer communities, prohibiting activities like nude beach days and drag queen shows.
Nudists can—and should—stand together with the LGBTQ+ community in solidarity against discriminatory ordinances that seek to limit their rights to self-expression.
When Jacob Riis Park became part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972, nudism at the beach became more difficult to practice. Despite this, the beach has maintained its reputation as a diverse and welcoming space for the LGBT community.
Jacob Riis Park's history as a place of counterculture and social defiance is closely tied to its history as a place of acceptance and inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community. It is a powerful example of how nudism can be a radical act of self-expression and resistance, and how it can be an integral part of a larger movement for social change. 🪐
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