Watch: How Unhoused, HIV+ Queer People Resisted NYC Gentrification in the ’90s

December 1, 2020

As New York City Mayor Rudolph Guliani’s gentrifying assault on the gay West Village got underway in the 1990s, a riverside neighborhood of unhoused queer and trans people—many of whom were HIV-positive and living with AIDS—persisted on the Hudson River piers, devising makeshift homes out of scrap wood, tarps and blankets.

In director Sasha Wortzel’s latest, archival-based short film, This Is An Address, legendary trans housing activist Sylvia Rivera guides viewers through this final outpost of queer people marginalized by racial capitalism in the historically gay neighborhood. Inside her home, a prayer candle flickers on a bedside stand adjacent to a mattress and a cluttered dresser. Outside, another resident sweeps the cement.

Interposed is footage shot by Wortzel herself of West Village buildings being razed to make way for newer, glitzier ones. Collaged together, the clips suggest that the gentrification of today’s New York is inextricably linked to that of Rivera’s city.

A 1995 interview conducted by activist Randy Wicker captures Rivera and her friends speaking to the exclusion from community resources of unhoused LGBTQ people living with HIV and AIDS.

One of the pier’s residents, John, told Wicker that when he sought AIDS treatment at a still-extant LGBTQ provider, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, he was turned away. “There is no services available for you here,” John alleged that a GMHC employee told him. “You have to have an address.”

To that, John responded, “Well I have, it just doesn’t have a number.”

This is an Address is about the experiences Sylvia and John describe, of being blocked access to HIV/AIDS care on the basis of having no address, of being harassed and surveilled by the police, and of living under the constant threat of eviction,” Wortzel told i-D. “The film is also about the afterlife of systemic violence that their experiences are rooted in. How is Sylvia’s experience intimately tied to the forced removal of the Lenape from the very land she’s on; to former incarnations and histories; to a larger collective experience of illness and resistance; to the violences of policing, the border, and prisons today?”


Disqus Comments Loading...