Inventors of Gay: The Fire Island Invasion

By: Christopher Harrity

The recent blazes on Fire Island that tore through many of the popular gay businesses, brought to mind the important cultural influences that this gay resort has had since the 1930s for LGBT folks. As such, we thought we should start 2012 talking about them.

Cherry Grove, by the late 1920s, was taking a decidedly gay turn as more bohemian types and artists began to flock there. In the '50s, development in the Pines set up a cultural axis of 'have more' and 'have less' among the residents. The lots were bigger and the Pines's community, although very gay, was more quiet and conservative. Tensions built, even though many of them were worked out in the outdoor sex area known as the meatrack, a patch of woods that lies between the two communities.

Then one day in 1976, in a Rosa Parks-inspired moment, Teri Warren, in full drag, went to the Boatel restaurant in the Pines and was promptly refused service.

This did not sit well with some Cherry Grovers, including Thom Hansen, who as Panzi had just been crowned Homecoming Queen of Cherry Grove (pictured left). Taking the duties of the crown seriously, Panzi and a handful of supporters all donned their most confrontational drag, boarded a water taxi and headed for a showdown in the Pines.

No slapping or wig pulling ensued. The Pines residents, shocked at first, were dazzled by the activists and soon all were drinking cocktails together at the Blue Whale. A tradition was born. Now, on July 4th every year for 35 years, hundreds of men and women put on their best drag and glam. They board water taxis and head for the Pines, only to be met by the equally outrageously dressed Pines residents. And with that, the largest Fire Island party of the summer ensues.

Let the world take note that this is the way to work out differences of class and culture.


Sources: Fire Island News and

"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people and cultural influences in LGBT history that helped create the culture we enjoy today.