Fire Island’s Answer to COVID-19? Drag Queens and Go-Go Boys.

"You know what we are? We're COVID Destroyers!"

Fire Island has been under fire recently.

Multiple photos and videos posted to social media from this past July 4 weekend showed dozens of mask-less gay men at massive beach and house parties in the Pines neighborhood of Fire Island, the popular LGBTQ vacation destination off the coast of Long Island. The parties made local and national news and were even called out by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Logan Hardcore, one of the most popular queens on the island, spoke out about the controversy, and now nightlife promoter Daniel Nardicio, the man behind the infamous Underwear Party in Cherry Grove, is doing his part in combating the spread of the virus on the island.

Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

Nardicio has joined forces with GMHC for the COVID Destroyers, a group of New York City and Fire Island drag queens and go-go dancers who, starting Friday, July 10, will greet people at the Fire Island Pines Harbor with hand sanitizer and masks. They will also hand out the precautions at beach and house parties.

NewNowNext spoke with Nardicio about where the idea for COVID Destroyers came from, what lessons we can learn from the July 4 fiasco, and if it’s possible to still have a safe summer out on the island.

Hey, Daniel! How’s how’s it going?

It’s going great. It’s a quiet day here, which is lovely since on the island I’m trying to run a guest house. I’m taking over Reflections this year to try to make something happen since I can’t really do events.

I spoke with Logan Hardcore about what went down on Fire Island this past weekend, and I told her when I saw the photos of all those parties on the beach and in the Meat Rack, I was disappointed but not surprised. Is that how you felt?

I was surprised. I was a little caught off guard. At one point I ran into someone outside and they were like, “Oh, yeah. There’s a beach party happening.” I was like, “Oh! Okay.” And actually I got something where someone was like, “Are you throwing this?” And I said no because I had already announced that I’m not doing parties unless something drastic changes—unless next week, they’re like, “We have a vaccine and we’re sending 1,000 to Fire Island.” Then I might consider it. … So when I heard that, I thought, “Okay. It’s a party, 20 guys.” I know we’ve relaxed in the sense that when you’re outside, like if you’re 20 or 30 people, most of you wearing masks, I feel a little okay about it. So I was caught off guard. I had heard it throughout the weekend and I thought, Oh shit, this is going to be bad news in general—you know, for the island. But just in terms of, for gay people, it’s not a cute look.

You’re at Reflections this summer. How do you control your guests and make them abide by the rules?

When the guests walk out the door, you can’t really control what they do. But honestly, I think most people were being really good. The problem is 200 people, which sounds like a lot. But when you look at the population of the Pines of the group, it’s not. Because I felt like we all of a sudden as gay people became the scapegoats for NBC News. Like, 6,000 people went to Trump’s rally. Admittedly, it wasn’t the 19,000 that he wanted, but didn’t 6,000 people go to that rally? Three hundred people were suddenly on the nightly news, so I was a little disappointed in that—disappointed in the gay guys for doing it. But it’s also hard running an island where people drink a lot and partake of other substances. And they’re young. The reason we recruit young people to go to war is because they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. Twenty-two-year-olds make stupid mistakes. And I’m a little more forgiving because I feel like you could actually really harm someone by going after them and tagging and dragging them. Not that I’m saying it’s okay. I feel there’s a different way to go about it.

So, were you out there July 4 weekend?

Yeah. I was here. I was in my house most of the time, though. Reflections is the kind of house where people tend to hear music and go, “Let’s go in the house to see what’s going on,” and Paul who works with me here would tell them, “Hey guys, sorry. There’s no party going on, but thanks for stopping by,” so that was our job all weekend.

When did you first start hearing about the parties? I’m sure people were reaching out to you right away.

I heard about them Saturday afternoon. Someone sent me an invite that said “Party at the beach. Coast Guard, wear a jock.” So a lot of people are out here are trying to emulate the Underwear Party. When I saw that and someone was like, “Is this you?” I was like, “Oh God, no. I’d never be at a party at the beach, it’s the worst.” It’s just not my thing. And then I started talking to people that were coming to [Reflections] and staying here. They were like, “Oh yeah, a bunch of people met up on the beach yesterday in the afternoon, and then we hear there’s something going on tonight” cause they were young and even they’re getting invited. I kind of sensed there was trouble brewing. I didn’t realize it was going to be the conflama that it was.

You were already strict with your rules at Reflections, but did this make you clamp down even more?

At that point, we were already halfway through the weekend. So on Saturday night, I was like, “You’re going out, you’re not coming in the house. You’re not having people over.” We had [been] a little bit more relaxed. I think we had like 15 people at the house on Friday night… we invited a couple of RuPaul girls that I know over to watch Drag Race. But like I said, our living room is massive. But by Saturday afternoon I kind of was like, “Okay, the cat’s out of the bag. We’re just going to have to keep distance from everyone, and they all leave on Sunday,” which is what we basically did. We’re trying to figure out what’s our next step because I don’t think those parties will happen again. Or it might in August, but how do we deal with it? How do we keep people in their rooms? Or do we just decide we’re not going to do this experiment, moving here to a much bigger space?

Speaking of next steps, can you explain what COVID Destroyers is and where the idea came from?

Before this past weekend, I was thinking about what can I do? How can I contribute? I have a name, I have a list, I have a bunch of people that work with me. How can I be of service? I lived through the AIDS crisis to a degree, and I know that shame is hard. It tends to push people deeper into their behaviors, they tend to dig their heels in. But I feel like, if we can find a fun way to sort of… “shame” is a harsh word, but you know, it’s a fun way to kind of point out like, “Hey, queen, you’re not wearing a mask.” And then I mentioned it to one of the guys that works for me. He works with the governor’s office, so then they jumped on board. Then someone from GMHC saw that I was doing it, and they were like, “This is exactly the kind of thing that we went through the AIDS crisis,” which is… they would make sure condoms were available and talk to people.

That’s the approach I’m taking. In my experience, shame is not really working, and a lot of people are coming for me right now. They’re like, “Shame works. You should shame.” And I was like, “You do you, boo. You can tag and drag and shame all you want, but it’s just not who I am.” We’re going from the perspective of, if there’s a beach group of people, we’re going to have some fun queens go off, and hot guys and go-go dancers will be like, “Hey, here’s some masks if you guys need them”—not pressuring, but just letting them know. GMHC is going to give us some bullet points that we can tell people. We have 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer coming out. So we’ll get those, and then we’ll get everything ready for this weekend. So that’s the plan. Like, a lot of people didn’t get the name. The mayor’s office was like, “No problem, we love this!” and I’m like, “Do you understand the name is inspired by porn stars?”

[Laughs] I love the name! Are the queens going to greet people as they get off the ferries and on the beach?

The beach, if we hear of any parties that are happening on the beach. The thing is, if we hear about a party at someone’s house, and it’s comfortable for them to go in—I would never want them to go into a situation where they’re uncomfortable. I’m going to pay them to do it. I want them to walk around and be a presence. … JustForFans just gave us 100 masks, and then the mayor’s office gave us 1,000.

Will this be a weekly thing?

Every weekend. I can’t afford it right now cause I’m not working at all. Normally I would’ve paid for it myself, but with this one, I’ve been like, “If you have a problem with this, then donate,” so we’ve had some people donate.

Going back to Reflections: You’re there this summer, but what happened to Big Dick’s Halfway Inn? Is that ever coming back?

A dear friend of mine [owns the property], and she kind of freaked out about COVID. … So we went back and forth, and then my friend who owns Reflections, who’s super cool, asked me to take it up. They didn’t have that many bookings because COVID happened so early in the season. So I said, “Great, we can start booking there and then have parameters for people.” Since it’s much a bigger space, I feel more comfortable.

What about your New York City venues, like Club Cumming?

Club Cumming is smaller, and it’s easier to contain. We’re just waiting to see what we can do. We’re going to start a whole digital music Club Cumming. We’re not going to open it until we absolutely are sure that we can. But we’re going to start doing digital series there because a lot of [our performers] could do be on-stage safely, and do it online.

And what about Bedlam? I saw it’s up for sale.

Bedlam… the rent is so high. It’s gigantic compared to Club Cumming, so much so that my business partner and I were like—after five months now, March, July, the rent is racking up. When we open again, if we open again, we’d be so underwater. It’s not really worth it, you know? I started a television production company that we’re working on right now, so I’m putting my energy into that as opposed to trying to take myself out of a hole at a bar.

Last question: Do you have any advice for anyone going out to fire Island this summer?

There is a lot of hatred towards Fire Island. In the city, there’s always been a dislike of Fire Island because there’s this misconception that you’re not welcome here. The drag queen Nicky Doll has become a dear friend of mine. She came out a couple of weeks ago, and she was like, “I just never thought I would feel comfortable here,” ’cause she’s not like some big muscle queen. People have that misconception, but the thing about Fire Island I love is that it’s open to anyone. It’s not cheap; I’ll be the first to admit it. But it’s a haven. It’s always been a haven for us. It’s got problems, for sure. But I think it’s great. To anyone who’s coming out of here, I would love to say to them, really try to follow the rules right now because we don’t need a police presence. Which we’ve learned in the last 6 months, so we need to take care of each other. That’s what this whole COVID Destroyers thing is. We can take care of ourselves. We did during the AIDS crisis, we can do it now. Let’s do it in a kinder, gentler way.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer