Earlier this week, the CBS News affiliate in Los Angeles ran a story about eighteen men who were arrested by the Manhattan Beach Police Department for committing “unlawful sexual activities” in several undercover stings at a local public beach restroom. The story prominently featured a graphic displaying each man’s name, date of birth, municipality of residence, and mugshot.
Just to be clear, I’m not interested in commenting about the merits or relative morality of hooking up in public places. My opinion on the matter — along with, quite frankly, everyone else’s — is largely irrelevant, because these hookups are simply not going to stop. Whether it’s public restrooms, parking lots, New York taxis, highway rest stops, the alleys behind local dive bars, the back seat at the drive-in movie, driving down the interstate, or along secluded Lover’s Lanes, people across the country are having sex in public. And in the nation of spring break, Mardi Gras, and Girls Gone Wild, if you think it’s only the gay men who are doing it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
And therein lies the problem. How many police departments do you see across the nation staking out high school parking lots on prom night? In these tough economic times, how many of them are devoting their limited resources to busting up sexual encounters in the back alley behind the Boom Boom Room? When was the last time you read about a straight couple arrested after being caught in flagrante delicto in the bushes at a local park? And out of those few occasions, how often does the local media publish the names, cities, and mugshots of the accused . . . with their full birthdates?
While these things undoubtedly happen to people straight and gay, there’s definitely a double standard at work here in terms of how the laws about public sexual acts between consenting adults are enforced and how accused persons are treated. And more often than not, LGBT people are victimized as a result.
This story has uncomfortable echoes of an earlier time in America when gay sex was illegal, LGBT establishments were frequently raided by police, and the names, mugshots, and personal information of those arrested were published by local newspapers in order to shame them and satisfy both the public’s lust for all things salaciously taboo and its seemingly endless desire to claim moral superiority. All too often these stunts resulted in people being evicted from their homes, fired from their jobs, cast out of their families and social circles, and driven to suicidal despair. Surely this couldn’t be the motivation for so publicly humiliating these eighteen men, so why did the Manhattan Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles media do it? They need to start providing some answers, because this story raises disturbing questions.