Police Enforcing Law Against Asking for Gay Sex in Park
MSNBC, September 23, 1998
SPRINGFIELD (Missouri) Police are trying to correct what they
call a neighborhood problem in Phelps Grove Park. They say theyve had complaints
about homosexual men asking for sex in the park.
Police say neighbors, joggers, even groundskeepers have complained that theyve
been followed or approached by men looking to trade sexual favors. Most of the neighbors
to whom we talked say its not a problem. But a couple of them said theyve seen
men parking or driving around trying to pick up other men. And under a city ordinance,
thats against the law.
"It can be debated, but from a law enforcement standpoint, its against the
law and the community wants us to enforce it," said David Millsap, the public
information office for the Springfield Police Department.
At one time, the Police Departments Tactical Unit patrolled the park and arrested
people for homosexual solicitation. But, a few years ago, the unit was reassigned to focus
instead on driving while intoxicated cases. So the homosexual solicitation ordinance went
virtually unenforced until this summer.
"The Community Policing Unit took over and thats where it belongs because
were supposed to solve neighborhood problems," Millsap said. "And
thats where the complaints are coming from: the neighborhood. Weve got a
displacement problem. Earlier this summer we had a problem at Lake Springfield. We applied
some enforcement efforts. And the park was closed for the cemetery. Now theyve moved
back to Phelps Grove and weve seen some of that activity at Fastnight, too. They
solicit one another for sex that sometimes occurs here at the park."
The sex between the men is most often consensual but the police department doesnt
care. That ordinance outlawing homosexual solicitation has been on the books since 1976.
"Couldnt care less because the law doesnt address the consent of
homosexual solicitation," Millsap said.
Police are working with the parks department to make some changes. Officers say more
lighting might help, along with some changes in parking.
Ironically, there is no similar law against heterosexual solicitation. Heterosexual
solicitation is a crime only if money is exchanged. Members of the gay and lesbian
community say thats discriminatory. Trint Williams of the Gay and Lesbian Community
Center of the Ozarks agrees, however, that there should be laws against sexual
solicitation in public places.
"Yes. I think its good for the community. Sexual solicitation in public
parks is wrong. Thats not what parks are for. My only problem with the law is that
it should also apply to heterosexuals," Williams said. "Nobodys asking for
special treatments. Just equality."
Williams says many men feel they need to keep their sexual orientation a secret and
thats why they meet anonymous partners at places like this. He says their lifestyle
is not representative of the rest of the healthy gay and lesbian and bisexual community.
Despite that, there is no effort underway to have that ordinance repealed or to pass a
heterosexual solicitation ordinance. Gay and lesbian organizations say they have bigger
fish to fry. For seven of the past nine years, theyve tried unsuccessfully to repeal
a state law that makes it a crime to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex.
Theyre planning to try again next year.
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