Sex in the park?

Investigative Commentary: Police records debunk the media-driven myth of gay sex in public parks

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: April 2, 2011 in Cover Stories

If Charlotte news station WBTV or Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James were your only sources of information, you’d likely be led to believe the Queen City has a significant problem with men engaging in illegal sexual activities in the city’s and county’s public parks.

Fortunately, real journalism uncovers hard numbers — facts backed up by police records — that show an astonishingly low rate of arrests for men soliciting so-called crimes against nature in public places.

The following qnotes report details how one Charlotte news station helped to perpetuate the myth of gay men as sexual predators. It’s also the culmination of research into dozens of arrests for solicitation of crimes against nature in and around the City of Charlotte. All the evidence points toward one solid conclusion: illegal sexual activity by men engaging in sex with other men is a mere minor concern when compared to the overwhelming number of arrests and citations related to heterosexual prostitution.

 

Perpetuating the myth

The myth that gay men are predators is nothing new. Most gay or bisexual men hear it at some point in their lives, even from family members or close friends. The prejudiced myth dates back decades, if not centuries. A now-infamous educational film produced in 1958 and released in 1961 is among the most recognizable examples available in the public domain. Produced for the Inglewood, Calif., school district and police department, it cautions teenage boys against the evils of “homosexuals” lurking in public restrooms and parks.

The historic, cultural prejudice and bigotry against gay men — often painting them as sick and mentally ill, as the 1958 Inglewood film does — made a Feb. 22 news report by WBTV’s Steve Crump all the more damaging. Armed with nothing more than anonymous online postings from a hook-up website, Crump took to southwest Charlotte’s James Boyce Park to interview concerned parents and community members.

“Officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department are looking into a troubling new hot spot for anonymous sex,” Crump reported in his story, entitled “Internet site links Charlotte to gay sex” on WBTV’s website. “Police say men are meeting up for intimate encounters at a neighborhood park popular with children.”

Crump continued, “James Boyce Community Park is located at 300 Boyce Road in southeast Charlotte. It has the appearance of any park until you read the fine print found on a website called cruisinggays.com. One visitor on the website claims people have sex on many of the trails and warns people that men have been seen having sex in the open.”

Crump’s report included interviews with parents and the leader of a nearby neighborhood patrol, accompanied by several video images of young children playing on swing sets and other playground equipment, on a baseball field and with their parents. Copies of the website postings were shown to parents during interviews. In one scene, the reporter mentions the name of the website, “Cruising Gays,” followed by a parent’s, “Oh no!” Later, a young woman is heard saying, “This is awful.”

Following the report, qnotes contacted WBTV News Director Dennis Milligan. At the time, Milligan said the station had learned of the hook-up website from a viewer.

“It had been the subject of neighborhood concern and consternation,” Milligan told qnotes. “I think they had been in contact with the police department and there was some exchange of emails that there was going to be something done and that was forwarded to us.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) crime data tracking back to Jan. 1, 2011 showed no reported incidents or calls for service related to public indecency or other sex-related crimes within a half-mile of the Boyce Park area. In fact, records dating back to Jan. 1, 2009, showed only three calls for service for indecent exposure, though there were no reported incidents or arrests for the same.

Following their initial report, WBTV aired another story after County Commissioner James publicly questioned how recreation officials were dealing with “sexual predators” and the “moral scourge” in Mecklenburg County parks. James claimed the parks had become home to “homos-xual infestations” and that the police still “arrest about 250 homos-xuals a year.”

WBTV also interviewed this writer, though qnotes later issued a statement clarifying statements the station misrepresented on air.

Despite no evidence indicating a problem with illegal sexual activity in James Boyce Park — evidence outlined by this paper several times — Milligan insisted Crump’s story was accurate, though he declined to comment directly on qnotes’ statement.

“We’re standing by the content of our story,” Milligan told Creative Loafing. “We have confidence in our story, and we reported it in a pretty straightforward fashion and that’s all I have to say. I’m not going to get into any specifics of what he [qnotes’ editor] had to say. He has his own opinions, and he’s certainly entitled to his opinions. We stick by the story and our reporting of that story.”

 

Uncovering the truth

By the numbers

Total CAN* charges: 325

CAN charges, female: 256
CAN charges, male: 69

CAN arrests, male: 47
Prostitution/narcotics
related arrests, male: 32

Non-prostitution/narcotics
related arrests, male: 15
…in parks**: 3
…in other public areas: 12

* Total number of individuals charged withsoliciting a crime against nature in 2010 and in 2011 through Feb. 18, 2011.
** All three occurred at Kilborne Park in east Charlotte. No arrests were made in James Boyce Park in 2010 or in 2011 through Feb. 18, 2011.

Following WBTV’s report, qnotes decided to do what Crump and his colleagues chose not to. We immediately undertook an investigation of arrests and charges for solicitation of a crime against nature and requested information from CMPD for all of 2010 and 2011 through the end of February.

According to CMPD’s Rob Tufano, a total of 325 people were charged in 2010 and 2011 with soliciting a crime against nature. Of the total, only 69 were men. Forty-seven men were arrested and charged, and the remainder were issued citations.

qnotes further requested the public synopsis for each of the 47 case numbers provided to us by CMPD officials. After reviewing each, an obvious trend became clear.

The majority (32 of 47) of cases were related to prostitution or narcotics activity, including several specifically linked to CMPD-led prostitution and narcotics investigations.

Only 15 cases involved men charged with a non-prostitution-, non-drug-related solicitation of a crime against nature. Five occurred at the Charlotte-Douglas Airport overlook on Old Dowd Rd., another five at an interstate rest area, three at Kilborne Park in east Charlotte, one at a hotel or motel and one on N. Tryon St.

 

Heterosexual prostitution ‘predominant’ problem

The arrest records validate the experience of CMPD Sgt. B.D. Hollar, a unit leader in the department’s vice and narcotics division.

“It happens, but, no, I wouldn’t say the parks are overrun with it,” he told qnotes via phone in late February. “What we generally, mainly enforce is the prostitution. We have a proliferation of it on the internet. It used to be Craigslist; now it is Backpage. We also have a decent sized street prostitution problem here in Charlotte and at back massage parlors.”

Vice crackdowns on prostitution are primarily complaint-driven, Hollar said.

“When we have complaints in reference to prostitution, we’ll get specific complaints on specific people,” he explained.

Similarly, stings and operations targeting other types of illegal sexual activity in public are also guided by complaints.

“When we do get the complaints we handle them,” he said, pointing to Kilborne Park as a recent trouble spot.

The majority of arrested men, Hollar said, are either married or haven’t publicly acknowledged their sexual orientation.

 

Shirking their responsibility

The Society of Professional Journalists calls news-media professionals to seek the truth, report it with thoroughness and fairness, to minimize harm, and be accountable to mistakes, unethical practices and public grievances. The overwhelming majority of journalists abide by such codes, though, occasionally, journalists shirk their duties and responsibilities to the public in exchange for sensationalistic tabloidism. Such was the case for WBTV’s reports on alleged-though-uncorroborated incidents of illegal sexual activity in James Boyce Park.

The lopsided numbers all point to heterosexual prostitution as the primary issue of concern among sexual crimes in Charlotte — not men who have sex with men. Upon further investigation and upon being exposed to the public, these facts are clear to even the most casual of observers. Yet, reporter Steve Crump and WBTV opted to ignore calls for accuracy, chose to distort and mislead the few facts they cared to report and played into decades-old prejudices and stereotypes of gay men.

Such behavior is a clear violation of journalistic ethics and can do irreparable harm to LGBT people. That’s why qnotes, unlike our colleagues at WBTV, opted to engage in real journalism, investigate the issue and report solid facts. We also sought to hold our colleagues at WBTV accountable. This report — the culmination of research and investigation, not sensationalism and half-truths — has done just that.

So, let the myth be quashed. There is no “infestation” of gay men in Mecklenburg County parks. There is no overwhelming problem — that is, except for heterosexual prostitution.

The evidence points Charlotte — and, in particular, County Commissioner Bill James and WBTV — in one clear direction: stop scapegoating gay men and start looking in the mirror. Misbehaving heterosexuals are your problem. Leave us gay folk alone. : :