Invasion 2015: 40 Summers Strong

By Katherine Klahn and Shoshanna McCollumPines, NY – Fire Island’s favorite Fourth of July fete celebrated its 40th birthday in relative unity despite the recent scandal that shocked the close-knit communities of the Pines and Cherry Grove. The event drew a record number of people who came from near and far to experience this truly unique celebration. At 40 summers strong and the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriages just barely a week old, this was a historic year to attend. In some ways the recent boycott controversy that rocked the Fire Island Pines community over the past couple months began to feel like a distant memory – but not quite.The Invasion is a wild form of free expression, history and LGBT pride. It began in 1976, when John Whyte, a restaurant proprietor, refused to serve a cross-dressing patron. This event has never been shy to embrace the political undertones of the moment that were of concern to the community. Now, spectators travel from near and far to enjoy the lavish display — hundreds of cross-dressed men and women arriving in the Pines Harbor on a crowded ferryboat. This year, for the first time, there were actually two flotillas — one vessel is no longer sufficient.Earlier that morning the beautiful boys, girls, drag queens and leather-men milled about primping and preparing at the Ice Palace. The Grove Hotel, within the compound that the Ice Palace calls home, is visibly missing due to the fire that ravaged Cherry Grove in the early spring, and while sad no one allowed this to dampen the mood. By show time everyone was pure perfection.Before boarding the ferry, a brief detour was made to the Cherry Grove Community Theater for some group photos in which Homecoming Queens past and present assembled on the stage. The New York City Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Marching band was starting the music and rousing the crowd. (The band is quite good by the way!)Panzi, coordinator of the event, was seeing to every detail before it was time to board the ferries, which were nicknamed “pink boat” and “yellow boat” not because the ferries had been painted for the day, but because color-coded bracelets determined who would ride each vessel. Invasions take much planning and are serious business.The ferry trip was a short ride, and while the mood was festive, it was also very relaxed and folks chatted idly as the men wore colorful gowns and intricate wigs while the women sported tuxedos and mustaches. Everyone was grateful for the breeze, but things started to heat up in the harbor. An airplane banner flew overhead, and some folks held their breath wondering if Queer Nation was back to interlope on this day, but no it was a marriage proposal. Maybe love does conquer all.The mammoth crowd waiting at the Pines greeted the incoming boats with cheers and whistles as the ferries landed. Music blared from the speakers with gay-culture favorites like “It’s Raining Men” and “I’m Every Woman.”As gossip grew, questions loomed: Will the ferry enter Pines territory? Would drag queens wave to their fans from the boat but never touch down on Pines property? Or, would the Boycott, Reisner and everyone else let bygones be bygones and just party as normal?The political moment came in the form of two blow-up dolls used as effigies to symbolize Ian Reisner and Matti Weiderpass. Panzi made a display of stomping them with her stiletto heels — part political statement, part comedy act woven into the fabric of the event itself.The procession off the boat was one of pomp and circumstance as there was a set order as parties disembarked. Demi Tasse, Cherry Grove Homecoming Queen of 2015, presided with a regal flair. The event’s Mistress of Ceremonies Panzi introduced Miss Fire Island 2014, Brenda Dharling, as she gracefully walked off the boat. The winner of the 2015 Miss Fire Island will be announced in September.Past homecoming queens were not forgotten, and they too were formally announced: China, Urban Sprawl, Beach DeBree, Ya Needa Dunes, Whore D’Oeuvre and Donna Piranha were some of many who walked down the red carpet to strut their stuff.Then there was Scarlet Oh, surrounded by her imposing royal guards. Scarlet Oh is none other than Joan Van Ness, something of a lark being a biological female and winning the crown in 1994. It was not easy to tell at first glance that her guards were all women, their disguises were so convincing.Many hopefuls to win the crown one day also walked down the aisle, with a conclusion that saluted the Stein family themselves, owners of Sayville Ferry Service, who helped make this day possible and were warmly embraced by Panzi with fond affection.In the end, some stayed on in the Pines, while others boarded the boat to return home to Cherry Grove. It was a matter of personal choice.The party at The Pool raged on — a Reisner co-owned club with a crystal-blue pool and tons of floats located in back of The Canteen. The club hosted a Best in Drag contest with $1,500 in cash and prizes; anyone dressed in drag drank free from 2 – 4 p.m. Operating Partner P.J. McAteer estimated that more than 2,000 people would be in attendance throughout the event.“Forty years ago we were only 15 people on a small water taxi, now there’s about 350 people on both boats,” mused Fire Island News columnist Bob Levine nostalgically, dressed in drag with a black feather boa, a pearl necklace and sunglasses. Like Panzi, he is among the original participants from 40 years ago.Fireside chats will fade with time; Fire Island’s Invasion will endure."Yellow Boat" says farewell to the crowds at Cherry Grove as the journey to the Pines begins. Homecoming Queens primping on stage at the Community House.Kinky boots at the Ice Palace.Thom Hansen as Panzi, coordinator of the Invasion undertaking.Scarlet Oh! Joan Van Ness, Homecoming Queen of 1994 with one of her royal guards, sans the bearskin hat.Mr. Fire Island Leather 2013 taking a break.Arrival at Fire Island Pines Harbor.Stormy skies threaten to rain on the parade.Neptune says no as he proceeds down the catwalk with a Boycott sign.The Stein family of Saville Ferry Service with Demi Tasse, reigning Homecoming Queen and Panzi at close of the ceremony.Meanwhile at "The Pool" the Best in Drag contest was soon underway.Bob "Rose" Levine, one of the original Invaders 40 summers ago and the legacy lives on.