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Sex in Public not Lewd - Just a Mood

Gay conduct treated more
harshly in media than straight love

Editorial Note:

Toilet TV news sweeps continue. News programming at Fox's WBRC (Channel 6) in Birmingham, Alabama, WFXT in Boston (Channel 25) NBC's WCAU (Channel 10) in Philadelphia have all featured hidden cameras in men's restrooms that are known to be frequented by males having sex behind the stalls.

In Philadelphia, nine protesters were arrested for trespassing at NBC last week, including Chris Bartlett, head of the AIDS program, Safeguards, and Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News. The protestors, reportedly chanting "Shame! And "Gaybasher" at Ed Dress, NBC's producer of the toilet sex series, were dragged off to police cars as Dress watched.

The following essay addressing this controversial issue is by another Marc Siegal, of UCLA. It originally appeared in the Daily Bruin.

By Marc Siegel

ucla1.gif - 35.20 K It's a typical Saturday night on campus. A light breeze doesn't quite clear away the sexy heat of midday. Students are heading out to clubs, bars and parties, but the diligent are buried behind books in the library, cramming in some late-night studying. Or are they? If we actually walk by those secluded stacks, darkened thanks to the broken lights overhead, we may be surprised by what we see or hear. We might witness an age-old university tradition: a guy and a girl getting it on. That's right, heterosexual sex in the library! It happens often enough. Titillating? Well, yeah sure, but is it news? Maybe. If so, is it a crime story?

Now what if this couple was comprised of two men. That's right, homosexual sex, but in the library! Well, there's also a tradition of homosexual sex on campus, but it doesn't take place in the relatively open and potentially visible space of the library stacks. Instead we take it to the stalls, or at least to the more private space of the men's bathroom. Titillating? Sure. News? Maybe. Crime story? That's certainly the impression one gets from the Daily Bruin's front page story, "Rest rooms site of reports on lewd conduct"(News, Oct. 21).

In this article, we learn that men having sex with each other in bathrooms are not just slightly naughty; they are actually suspects engaging in crime. We learn also that some people make complaints about this activity, yet we don't find out who these people are or what their complaints are. We learn that the university police and the Los Angeles Police Department spend an awful lot of time (or rather, taxpayers' money) responding to these complaints.

We learn that the police are trying their darndest to deter this so-called criminal activity from taking place but when push comes to shove, gosh, they've just got to enforce the law. We learn that the LAPD sends plainclothes policemen into bathrooms in order to encourage sex from other men - only to arrest them.

ucla3.jpg - 19.23 K A heterosexual couple enjoy each other 's company on the UCLA campus. And while we do learn that these police actions are "contentious," we don't learn that the more common term for this kind of action is entrapment. And we don't learn that they have been found by some courts (in nearby Stanislaus County for instance) to be acts of discrimination. Discrimination, because police entrap people having homosexual sex but don't do the same to those having heterosexual sex. One other odd thing we learn is that the police are not sure why there are no complaints coming from women's rest rooms.

But we don't learn anything about the sexism or the violent crimes against women that might make sex in public particularly threatening to lesbians.

Let's return to that horny heterosexual couple in the library for a moment, OK? Let's say someone does walk by and notices them. What does he or she do? Complain? Probably not.

But let's say the person complains. To who? The police? Probably not.

But let's say the person calls the police. Then when the police arrive, what do they do? Arrest the heterosexuals? Probably not.

But let's say they do. Then what do they arrest the heterosexuals for? Lewd conduct? Probably not.

They may arrest the couple for disorderly conduct or trespassing, or maybe they just let them off with a warning. And will the couple choose to fight their charges? Probably not.

But let's say they do, and let's say they lose. Then is this heterosexual couple at risk of being marked as sex offenders and placed on a list that may be available to anyone in the state, thanks to the faulty application of Megan's Law? Probably not.

Is any of this news? Is it a crime story? Probably not, but let's check just to be sure.

I came across an article on sex in public, that is: heterosexual sex. It originally appeared in the Penn State University Daily Collegian and was reprinted in the National U. Magazine in a section called "Urge" (Aug. 1994, p.14). The title of the article: "Wherever the Mood Strikes You." (So heterosexual sex is not lewd, just a mood.) The article begins by describing an incident at Penn State when a stalled dorm elevator was forced open by police only to reveal a heterosexual couple engaged in sex. It goes on to note that these two are "certainly not the first students in history to love freely in an unusual on-campus locale.

Each campus has "hot" spots that are as entrenched in its tradition as the fight song. The remainder of this playful, joking article is devoted to tallying up the various hot spots and to quoting students about the thrills that heterosexual sex in public offers them.

The article does make occasional reference to the police and does for instance mention that the students who were found having sex in the middle of the Penn State football field were charged with trespassing (a very minor offense when compared with lewd conduct). However, nowhere in the article are the people having heterosexual sex referred to as suspects; nowhere in the article is heterosexual sex referred to as criminal or as lewd.

These words do not appear, because the reality is that heterosexual sex even in public view is not something that people complain about, that people want to bother the police with, and that the police will choose to be bothered with. Now, don't get me wrong. I think people having heterosexual sex should be left alone.

But, here's my point, I also think people having homosexual sex should be left alone.

Now, let's return to The Bruin article. Unfortunately, it was not unusual for a news report on homosexual sex. In fact, it was typical. So common, so expected that some of my gay friends told me that on reading it they thought, "It's not really all that bad ... I mean considering what it could be?" Of late, after the arrest of pop star George Michael in a Beverly Hills bathroom last spring, gays have become accustomed to voyeuristic reports on homosexual sex in bathrooms.

And last May, news reporters around the country took hidden cameras into sex bathrooms, recorded footage and then broadcast it on prime-time. But this conduct on the part of reporters is not lewd, right? It's just journalism. Getting the good story. Good copy. Yes, we gays are used to our sex being used as a titillating spectacle for the mainstream.

By this point in my rant, I hope it's clear that my gripe is not merely with a single article in the Daily Bruin. Rather, I am criticizing the wider social homophobia that makes such articles conceivable in the first place. Last spring an episode of the TV show "Dharma and Greg" featured the two characters pondering where they would like to have sex in public the same evening that the news were to broadcast surveillance footage about the crime of homosexual sex.

Last spring, The Bruin interviewed graduating seniors about their fond memories of UCLA. One of them replied that his fondest memory was having sex with his girlfriend in the library. ucla4.gif - 19.57 K UCLA's Powell Library: Where it's cool for (straight) students to have sex.

There is a long and wonderful tradition of sex on college campuses; it is as entrenched as the fight song.

We must not continue to wink knowingly at this tradition, while we shame and criminalize homosexual sex.
Originally written for the UCLA Daily Bruin Reprinted with the permission of the author

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