We all know Fire Island to be New York’s hottest getaway for gay men, but there’s a beach right next door that’s home to East Coast lesbians and bisexual women whose story has yet to be told. One documentary aims to change that.
Filmmaker Parker Sargent has helmed the upcoming project Grove Girls: A Tribute to Women, Community, and Equality, which documents the lives of queer women vacationing at Cherry Grove, the storied hamlet on Fire Island that’s rich in lesbian history.
“As a gay youth, I could never have imagined that I’d end up living in a community of LGBTQ people that would not only be my friends, but also act as mentors and muses,” Sargent says of the project. “I want to explore the influence of gay community and the struggle for women’s equality, through documenting the female history of a very special place called Cherry Grove.”
Sargent is no stranger to queer documentary filmmaking, or the infamous vacation spot. In her 2016 documentary The Panzi Invasion, the filmmaker told the story of the 1976 Invasion of the Pines, when a ferry-full of drag queens sailed to the Fire Island Pines in protest of a patron dressed in drag was denied entry to a restaurant. Today, the Invasion of the Pines is an annual celebration on the island.
Queer women first started summering in Cherry Grove in 1950s and 1960s, about a decade after gay men began storming the beach. But the island’s queer visitors yielded endless discrimination, with lesbian women facing sexism on top of it all, having been denied the ability to buy property on the land.
What piqued Sargent’s interest was the willingness of queer women to band together in the face of adversity.
“When I started talking to more and more women, their experience in Cherry Grove sort of mirrored the women’s liberation movement in the ’real world,’” says Sargent. “Except this was a real sanctuary of love and nature. Women could come together to openly show affection but also talk to each other about the issues that they were facing, and the discrimination, and helping each other.” At the Grove, they felt safe.
Cherry Grove has been recognized for its longstanding history in recent years. In 2015, the National Register of Historic Places dubbed the location a National Historic Landmark. Last season,Saturday Night Livegave Cherry Grove the parody treatment, spoofingLOGO’s reality showFire Islandwith a snarky “new” show “about a group of affluent lesbians one beach away.”
Fittingly, Sargent is set to premiere her documentary at the Cherry Grove Film Festival on July 20. You can still contribute to the Grove Girlscrowdfunding campaign, which has reached $4,300 of its $6,000 goal, aiming to cover costs of production, marketing, and editing. She hopes to continue chronicling the beach’s unique queer history in a series of upcoming shorts.