Homeless LGBTQ Kids of Color
“Pier Kids” is director Elegance Bratton’s documentary on the homeless LGBTQ kids of color who live around the piers in New York’s Greenwich Village. Bratton began filming in 2011 and shot footage up until 2016 by when some of the kids had grown up and a few had sadly died, but most of the scene had essentially remained unchanged.
It is Bratton’s own story that gives the movie its authenticity. Bratton was kicked out of his home when he ‘came out’ and had lived on the streets for the next few years. He begins his film by pointing out the sobering facts that he, and the pier kids, are hardly alone. Of the 2 million homeless youth, over 50% of them identify as LGBTQ, and then 40% of that total are people of color.
Bratton just lets his cameras roll and even though there is not a tightly defined narrative he focuses on a handful of specific kids who he captures several times over the years. We see the tough existence for most of them face, relying on sex work and pilfering food at CVS to survive. Those who were brought up in strictly religious households have brief pauses for thought about stealing but justify it on camera as the only option they have to get by on a day to day basis.
The police are a regular presence on the Pier and seem to send an excessive amount of officers to deal with the smallest incidents. Bratton’s film rarely hints at the scary sides of life here with the presence of violence always hanging over the air.
One of the kids that Bratton particularly focuses on is a trans woman named Krystal LaBeija. Desperate for her mother’s acceptance , she hops on a bus to Kansas City where both her mother and aunt outright refuse to see and/or understand Krystal’s reality and instead quote their deeply held religious beliefs . The reunion is calm with a very exasperated Krystal trying to educate her family even though it is obvious they are far too entrenched in their views to ever change. She at least does have communication with her mother which most of the pier kids are robbed off the moment they are evicted from their family homes.
Another kid looks at the camera lens and complains that he is discriminated against because he is HIV negative. He had even considered deliberately catching the virus as he is convinced than within three days he would then be given housing and get financial aid. It is sadly too common a misconception but nevertheless a straw of hope that some of the kids hang on too.
This is a powerful documentary that merely observes and any thoughts or opinions we gather are based on actions and words of the kids. Braxton seems almost resigned to the reality that even if one day the pier kids get physical displaced, they will simply reassemble elsewhere to maintain their sense of community which is now so vital to their very being.