Last edited: December 20, 2004

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 they’ve had complaints about homosexual men asking for sex in the park.

Police say neighbors, joggers, even groundskeepers have complained that they’ve been followed or approached by men looking to trade sexual favors. Most of the neighbors to whom we talked say it’s not a problem. But a couple of them said they’ve seen men parking or driving around trying to pick up other men. And under a city ordinance, that’s against the law.

"It can be debated, but from a law enforcement standpoint, it’s 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 Department’s 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 that’s where it belongs because we’re supposed to solve neighborhood problems," Millsap said. "And that’s where the complaints are coming from: the neighborhood. We’ve 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 they’ve moved back to Phelps Grove and we’ve 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 doesn’t care. That ordinance outlawing homosexual solicitation has been on the books since 1976.

"Couldn’t care less because the law doesn’t 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 that’s 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 it’s good for the community. Sexual solicitation in public parks is wrong. That’s not what parks are for. My only problem with the law is that it should also apply to heterosexuals," Williams said. "Nobody’s asking for special treatments. Just equality."

Williams says many men feel they need to keep their sexual orientation a secret and that’s 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, they’ve tried unsuccessfully to repeal a state law that makes it a crime to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex. They’re planning to try again next year.

[Home] [News] [Missouri]