by Keith Griffith
Sexually active gay, bi and straight men are often caught in waves of police action against themselves for meeting in public or semi-public places. Such police actions are very often sparked by exposes on the evening news to gain ratings. This Cruiser Primer is designed to help you to know how to respond to media coverage, discuss the subject among friends and with elected and appointed officials. This primer will help you prepare answers for radio and television interviews and in composing letters for local print publications and blogs. It can help you make your case before groups such as park commissions, city councils and church groups, too.
Strongly discouraged are attempts to explain the actions of men arrested in sting operations by implying they are deeply closeted, troubled men. That is sometimes the case, but more often the men are far from disturbed and they're simply seeking sexual pleasure in the way heterosexual couples engage without fear of arrest in normal circumstances. Straight couples make out in public parks, parked cars, in darkened alleys, in bars, and other locations far more frequently, but society considers this activity normal socialization for single straights. Meanwhile, similar activity between men is subject to police actions and tactics by local media to harass and humilitate these men.
For the most part, my experience shows that media, when approaching the subject of so-called 'public' sex are rarely interested in an honest search for the truth. That shouldn't stop you from responding especially if you have a chance to do so in advance of an upcoming local news expose. This Cruiser Primer should help you by giving you some quick ammunition to make your case. I start by posing a series of fundamental questions that can be asked when responding to issues related to 'public' sex. Detailed answers with examples are given to help argue your case before media, politicians, and others.
In discussing 'public sex' issues, never assume fairness from the police or the media reporting the story. Never assume the men arrested were doing anything more provocative than standing in a public park. Ask those who do the arresting why, if the activity is so 'public', is it necessary to do this undercover and hide in the shadows waiting to catch someone. When issues about children are raised, demand proof that children are harmed by men in these situations. Demand to know, for example, how activity happening down a long trail at 11 pm is going to impact any child living nearby. Insist on actual dollar amounts for how much it will cost to arrest and convict someone in this type of operation. Ask politicians to justify expenditures to arrest men for consensual sex acts.
I am always willing to work with local activists and organizations in preparing for media coverage about 'public sex' or in fighting politicians advancing their careers on the backs of men cruising for sex. You may contact me at [email address redacted because Keith is deceased].
Essential Issues About 'Public' Sex
1. YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
How much tax money and manpower is being spent to stop what is absolutely NOT a serious crime? What things are being neglected in your community while cops stake out toilets and parks?
A. I would question how much manpower and tax money is being spent on these 'victimless crimes.'
-- Chasing men out of the parks, arresting some of them -- these are all things being done by police who should be involved in solving REAL crime. The cop that spends his day standing in a toilet stall playing with himself isn't out walking the beat in our neighborhoods. Whenever police are doing this sort of work, they logically can't be doing other things.
I suggest you look at the numbers of times the police fail to respond to emergency calls. Look at 911 logs and police reports for the time period that police spend arresting men in parks and toilets. You may very well find that response time to real emergencies is compromised by misdirected manpower.
-- Following the attacks of 9/11, and federal government actions to help local communities invest in programs to prevent future terrorism attacks, reports began surfacing of towns and cities using helicopters, night-vision binoculars, and camouflage clothing not to prevent terrorism, but instead to capture consenting men having sex or, in many instances, simply meeting one another in remote parts of parks in the dead of night. Use of this equipment for such unimportant 'crimes' are hardly the intention of Congress when the money was allocated to prevent future terrorist actions in the USA. Local politicians and heads of police departments should be forced to justify this waste of taxpayer money and to provide details as to the complaints they will claim were received to justify the expenditure.
What is the hidden agenda of any crackdown on so-called public sex? Are land developers involved? Is the mayor or district attorney up for re-election?
A. Look at the personalities involved.
-- Is pressure coming from extremist groups (often disguised as concerned parents)? Are particular politicians with other agendas applying pressure to clean up the town? Maybe a land developer is operating behind the scenes. This latter scenario is particularly common when it involves the closing down of retail establishments who sell adult products (bookstores, theatres). But also, as more development spreads further out into once fairly remote countryside and also within re-emerging inner cities, locations that have traditionally been cruise grounds are suddenly off limits.
-- What about the cops involved? Is the police chief or the head of the vice squad anti-gay? A religious fanatic? Have they been specifically ordered to carry out these duties, or are they doing this on their own? Very often you find individual cops who do this without being given orders -- cops that are 'on a mission for god.'
-- Not long ago, as recently as 20 years ago, it was routine for police to 'round up the fags' in bars in most American cities. This is no longer politically expedient, but the same anti-gay mentality prevails throughout law enforcement. Ask yourself if these cops may be reacting to changes in political realities that do not allow for arresting gay men in bars, but still allow for beating up on 'the fags' in our parks.
B. Is there a local election coming up?
-- You can almost follow the sweeps of parks and toilets by simply looking at who is running for office and when. Elections for mayor or the local district attorney are always prime suspects. Another thing you can count on is that AFTER the elections, things will return to a state of normalcy: parks will get busy again, bookstores will return to allowing more than one patron inside a private booth, etc.
C. Is it sweeps month for your local news station?
-- A few times each year, local television and radio stations enter what is called 'sweeps' periods when ratings are monitored to determine ad rates for the remainder of the year. Local news media frequently time provative exposes on 'public sex' to air during the sweeps period to better spike their ratings numbers. Ask your local media how they can justify such salacious reporting that will likely hurt lives just to gain more ad revenue.
3. DOUBLE STANDARDS
Is there a double standard? How many straight people have been arrested for engaging in inappropriate behavior in public parks, out on 'lovers lane,' and elsewhere?
A. Straight couples are treated differently.
-- Ask the local police how much effort is made to stop heterosexual activity in parks and various other public places where couples can routinely be found necking, giving and receiving oral sex and more. If the situation is like it is everywhere else, this activity is winked at, if not entirely ignored when it involves a man and a woman.
-- Police insist they would arrest straight couples caught having sex in parks. The truth is that single men are arrested for simply being in a park or perhaps glancing at an officer from a park bench.
-- Below are a few examples of how the media treat public sex involving mostly heterosexual participants as a thrill and a healthy rite of passage, and not a ticket to sex offender rolls, job loss and public humiliation:
a. New York Magazine, April, 2007: http://nymag.com/nightlife/mating/29981/
-- "An Elle–MSNBC.com survey conducted last year found that 22 percent of Americans had done it in public in the preceding year."
b. About website (owned by New York Times), May, 2009: http://newlyweds.about.com/b/2009/05/01/sex-in-public-places-yeah-or-nay.htm
-- The newlywed column writes a piece on how public sex can help keep a marriage exciting.
c. New York Post, September 5, 2007: http://www.nypost.com/seven/09052007/gossip/pagesix/sex_in_public.htm
-- "When Tommy [Lee of Motley Crue] walked in, he asked, 'Is it cool to have sex in here?' The hostess thought he was kidding, but . . . then he just went to town with this girl." [Tommy Lee did not get arrested or even cited by police.]
d. Esquire Magazine, March, 2009: http://www.esquire.com/features/Dilemmas/sex-in-public-0409
-- In this article actress Mary-Louise Parker reminds us of the joys of public sex.
e. Philadelphia Weekly, May, 2009: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/Fuckin-in-the-Free-World-44817587.html
-- In this article we're treated to playful advice on where to do it in Philadelphia if you prefer not to wait till you get home. Among the locations listed: the Betsy Ross House. "According to the very reputable and totally accurate Urban Dictionary, 'to Betsy Ross' means having sex on the American flag. As in, 'I Betsy Rossed my girlfriend at the Betsy Ross House.'”
f. College Candy, November, 2008: http://collegecandy.com/2008/11/09/sex-in-public-fantasy-into-reality/
-- "I recommend it to be tried at least once. There’s nothing like the thrill of having your back against the wall with your lover between your legs and the sound of footsteps on the stairs."
4. THE MORE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION
What is really wrong with two consenting people having sex in the bushes? Behind the stall door of a toilet? It may not be the first choice for many people, but should society enforce laws against people simply because some people are uncomfortable with essentially non-destructive behavior by some individuals? What is to be gained from making otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals?
A. There is nothing inherently immoral about so-called 'public' sex.
-- Most men try very hard to do their sex in private (behind bushes, in a toilet stall with the door closed, etc). While some of us may prefer sex in a bedroom, that isn't always an option for many people. Frankly though, many people prefer sex in the outdoors. It isn't too hard to figure out why this would seem 'natural' to many people. After all, we have been having sex in the outdoors a great deal longer than inside our bedrooms. What about toilets? It can't be that hard to figure out that this is one of the few times when grown men are allowed to expose their genitals in public. Sometimes the sexual urge will come along and very often men, being men, will act upon those urges.
-- 'Public' sex is an important part of a rich gay male sub-culture documented through literature, film and song. It comes complete with a language, codes and signals, oral history, the sharing of information, and legions of participants who have achieved a great deal of pleasure and personal growth. To abandon this rich sub-culture would be an incredible loss for both the gay community as a whole, but also the larger culture. For example, heterosexual marriage benefits directly when married men find sexual relief with willing male partners if, as is sometimes the case, a wife can't or will not fulfill all the sexual needs of her husband. In much the same way that prostitution actually keeps marriages together, the same can be said of 'public' sex.
5. "THE CHILDREN"
What threat is there to children from men who cruise for sex? Very often spoken of by police, politicians or media, but there is rarely any effort to prove claims that children are at risk from men seeking sex with other men.
A. Children are not at risk from men seeking one another for sex in toilets and parks.
-- It is extremely rare for one of these men to make contact with any kids in the park, toilet, or other setting. Yet, time and again, the specter of the predatory homosexual is rolled out to scare people. Gay people have put up with this stereotype for ages, but the truth remains that the majority of child molesters are straight men who know their victims.
-- It is conceivable that a child may walk into a scene, though cruisers routinely select locations that offer a reasonable degree of certainty non-cruisers will not stumble upon sexual activity. The noisy door, the double-door entrances, the remote section of a park, the virtually unused toilet on park property -- these are the places men seek out for sexual liaisons. Still, the question about children must be asked: is this likely to prove harmful to the child if they do walk into a scene where men might be having sexual activity? This assumes, of course, that a child would be able to determine that sex was happening. No research I'm aware of has shown that children are traumatized by sex, unless of course, they themselves are the subject of abuse by their father, mother, sister, brother, uncle, aunt or family friend. My own hunch is that the real harm comes from adults the child knows. In fact, adults who think these young people need 'healing' perpetuate the destructive notion that sex is dirty. They harm kids by instilling shameful and unhealthy attitudes about sex.
6. PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE
How public is the sex that happens in parks and toilets?
A. 'Public sex' is actually not done in public.
-- It is a common misperception, for obvious reasons, that 'public' sex is something one can see easily and everywhere: in the streets of busy intersections, in wide open spaces of public parks, and in the middle of a public toilet. In fact, the sex is private in most instances, though it does occur in public or semi-public spaces. Some courts have even ruled that persons can presume a degree of privacy in a car, for example, when parked at the end of a dark alley. Other cases have been argued successfully that public indecency charges can't be brought when a public who might be offended isn't likely to be present -- for example, late at night behind a maze of bushes in a city park. Cruisers normally and routinely seek out hidden locations within public venues to find men for sexual activity.
One of the frustrating things about media coverage of this topic is how news media never seems able to make the connection that perhaps one reason this type of behavior may come as a 'shocking revelation' to nearby park residents is because cruisers use common sense to protect their play spaces from those who do not wish to participate.
7. OTHER ATTITUDES ABOUT PUBLIC SEX
Are there examples of alternative attitudes to so-called 'public' sex? Are some cities taking a different approach in dealing with this issue? You would be hard-pressed to find alternative approaches in the USA, but beyond our borders a more rational thinking has taken hold.
A. Police in London released a 21-page report, titled "Guidance on Policing Public Sex Environments" telling police their role is not 'moral arbiter' and to turn a blind eye on sex on public spaces. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/desire/police-should-turn-blind-eye-to-public-sex-963762.html
B. City officials in Toronto took a decidely different position on the impact of 'public' sex when Toronto Healthy City Office planner, Carolyn Whitzman was quoted in a local weekly on June 25, 1998 saying, "If it's serious crime you're trying to prevent then having lots of people around is very effective. And one of the cool things about public sex is that it gets people into the parks at night."
C. The Dutch police announced a plan in 2008 to legalize sex in parks and announced the plan would be first implemented in Amsterdam before spreading to the remainder of the country. Meanwhile, the police re-affirmed that dogs must be on a leash in these parks. http://www.nisnews.nl/public/080308_2.htm
8. A BOTTOM LINE
Should people go to jail for this? Is this the type of 'crime' that should ruin a person's life? Take away their ability to earn a living? Force them onto a sex-offender list as if they had molested a 2-year-old?
A. It is an extreme abuse of state power to incarcerate adults for consensual sex with one another.
-- Should people caught in a consenting sex act actually be convicted of a crime? Spend time in jail? Have to pay attorney fees and fines? Be registered on a sex offender list? Have their names and addresses, perhaps even their employer listed in the newspaper or read on the TV news? Risk losing their job, their wife or partner? I believe that consenting sex should not be considered a crime in our society. I also believe that most people, if the facts are explained, agree with the position that consensual sex between adults is rarely a crime.
The governance of sex in places outside the bedroom should fall under the rules of civility and common courtesy, not the law. If someone doesn't like seeing 4 legs behind the toilet stall door, they should either turn away, leave, or politely but firmly ask the people involved to stop. The cops should not be assigned the task of monitoring what we do in our sex lives.