State Denies Targeting Gays in Busts at Park Beach
July 25, 2003
1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132
Fax: 305-527-8955 or 305-376-8950
By Diana Moskovitz, Herald Writer
Relaxing, breaking in his new, white bathing suit and working on his
tan—that’s all Fort Lauderdale resident Tracy Faulkner had in mind, he
says, when he visited the beach at John U. Lloyd State Park in March.
He left with an order to appear in court. The charges: two counts of
indecent exposure. Officers said his swimming suit was not sufficiently
“The whole situation was absurd,” said Faulkner, who won a dismissal of
the charges after showing the suit to a judge.
Faulkner is one of several men, some of them gay, who say officers at the
park, just north of State Road A1A in Dania, ticketed them simply for enjoying
a park maintained with their tax dollars.
They have consulted with a lawyer, Russell Cormican, about a possible legal
challenge. The Express Gay News, a gay-oriented Fort Lauderdale newspaper
published by Cormican’s law partner, Norm Kent, has joined the outcry.
State officials overseeing park security make no apologies. They say they
are enforcing laws aimed at preserving a clean, family-type atmosphere at the
park. They deny targeting gays, saying their officers have no way of knowing
who is gay or who is straight.
“We are enforcing the law with everyone that is there,” said Lucia
Ross, chief of executive affairs for the Department of Environmental
Protection’s law enforcement division.
Because it is secluded and often sparsely used, particularly on weekdays,
John U. Lloyd is a park known as a place where illicit activities can occur.
Among those activities are public sex.
“On a daily basis, we’re cleaning up such things as used condoms in
areas where people have obviously been having sexual activity,” Ross said.
However, Faulkner and several others who have received tickets believe they
are being targeted for imaginary offenses, part of a strategy for discouraging
gays from visiting the park.
Jose Mendoza, of Fort Lauderdale, said he stopped visiting the park after
his encounter with the law.
On March 29, he was charged with sitting on the sea grass, according to the
incident report, punishable by a maximum fine of $500 fine and/or jail time.
Mendoza was lounging 25 feet from the water on two large beach chairs with
a friend when he was ticketed and told to leave the park, he said.
His friend received a warning, Mendoza said.
When Mendoza arrived for his June 23 court date, he says he was told the
state had dropped the charges.
“If they are really doing their job to protect the area and the
environment, they can say ‘Hey, please move there,’ and we can move,”
Michael Salazar, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, said he represented four men
charged with similar infractions. The first two ended with the state dropping
charges. The other two are pending.
Around the country, concerns have been raised about the selective
enforcement of laws against gays.
“We get calls all the time from folks who are in this position where
there is a law that, good or bad, the law is only being applied to gay folks
and not other folks,” said David Buckel, a senior staff attorney with Lambda
Legal, a legal defense group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered
people and those living with HIV and AIDS.
Gay activists rejoiced when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an
anti-sodomy law in Texas, which many gays felt were used to selectively target
‘The high court said what we always called the ‘gay exception’ to the
law is dead,” Buckel said.
The men ticketed at John U. Lloyd are fighting much smaller legal
skirmishes, but they too are prevailing.
To get his charges dismissed, Faulkner showed up in court representing
himself, swimsuit at the ready. Broward County Judge Lee Jay Seidman had the
registered nurse hold the suit up to the light with his arm and wristwatch
inside, to determine whether or not the suit was “opaque.”
The verdict: not guilty.
Police say they will continue ticketing, dismissals or no, as they feel
necessary. Officers on patrol only need probable cause to issue a citation,
said Greg Gibson, a captain with the DEP law enforcement division, while
courts require a higher level of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, to find a
“That does not make it an inaccurate charge,” Gibson said.
Since March, 47 people have been ticketed for trespassing-type offenses at
John U. Lloyd and another state park facility, Hugh Taylor Birch in Fort
“One officer was in a convenience store, and when they told someone they
worked at John U. Lloyd, the person gave them a look and said they would never
take their kids there again,” said Lucia Ross, the DEP spokeswoman. “This
is so people can feel free to go to the park again.”
Not Mendoza, who gave up his visitor pass to the park after seven years.
“The problem with this,” said Cormican, “is they weren’t arresting
the people doing something wrong.”
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