Gay sex and crime, history and the future

Editor's Note

This issue, qnotes publishes its fifth annual “Love and Lust” Sex Issue. Our cover story explores gay love and sex, focusing mostly on gay male culture, in the 1960s and 1970s — before the beginning of the AIDS Crisis. Online, we also have reprinted an archived November 1991 story on young male hustlers, originally written by associate editor David Stout.

Throughout the 1970s, the world changed, mostly for the better. The decadent decade of disco brought some LGBT legal victories in some places. In 1973, homosexuality was delisted as a mental illness. But, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, many gay and bisexual men found themselves deeply closeted and living in a society and world they thought could never accept them.

In a world such as this, as recounted in Stout’s archived article, many turned to sexual encounters with hustlers. Others, as additional material from qnotes’ archives details, turned to anonymous sexual encounters in gay porn stores, rest areas, public bathrooms and parks.

Imagine it is the 1980s. No gay folks on network sitcoms. No significant forward movement on issues like marriage equality or employment non-discrimination. Several gay bars scattered about, but none with the nonchalant mainstream acceptance most receive today. And, did I mention, there’s no internet.

- - - advertisement - - -

Now imagine you’re a closeted gay man. Perhaps you’re married. Perhaps not. You have a good job and no one there knows you are gay. You’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s, or older. Either way, you were alive when being gay was a bona fide sickness, a diagnosable, treatable mental illness — a crime.

You’re scared to death someone might find out you’re gay. If they ever do, you risk losing your family. You risk losing your job. So, you’d never go to a gay bar. What if an employee saw you there? What if someone noticed your car in the parking lot?

What do you do? How do you find a connection with someone like you? How do you find an outlet to express yourself?

The crippling fear that kept some closeted men from experiencing the comfort of community in local gay bars or in volunteer work with community organizations ultimately put them at a much greater risk of HIV or STD infection and criminal prosecution.

“ENTICING — Vice Officers Waging War at Bookstores, Parks,” reads a March 1987 headline. “Charlotte Police Cracking Down on Park Cruisers,” reads another from October 1988.

- - - advertisement - - -

Don King, qnotes’ first editor who is interviewed for our cover story this issue, was serving in his role at the time. At the paper, King did more than document the arrests, as questions of entrapment and other public sex controversies unfolded in the late 1980s.In the fall of 1987, he formed a support and information task force for gay men arrested on charges of solicitation, crime against nature or assault.

“I contend that the police are deliberately arresting not only people who break the law, but also people who have committed no crime but are too scared to pursue their case,” King said in an article about the group in September 1987. “We must stop that.”

Men were arrested for simply walking and talking with undercover cops in public parks or for asking an undercover cop to go back home with them. Some were arrested for simply talking about sex, but never really taking any action to initiate it. Some were charged with assault for innocently touching an undercover cop’s shoulder or arm and others were charged with indecent exposure when there had been none. And, after arrest, men’s families or employers called in an effort to embarrass or intimidate the accused. The list goes on and on.

Issue after issue of late-1980s-era editions of the newspaper are filled with similar news reports. By the late 1990s and the birth of the internet, things moved slowly toward change. The LGBT community became more and more accepted and affirmed. The need for anonymous sexual encounters in public spaces declined.

No doubt, some men are still faced with the same types of fears that once kept many men’s only experiences in the gay “community” relegated to parks and adult stores. But, much of that fear today is rare.

Histories like the stories of these arrested men and others like those included in our cover story this issue are stark reminders of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. The obstacles faced in the past are crumbling more quickly with each passing day. The headlines we write today will one day be archived. A new generation will look back with wonderment when that world we’ve sought — where no LGBT person lives in fear of themselves or others — has come into being. : :

- - - advertisement - - -

Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.