Last edited: December 08, 2004

Sex Arrests on a Gay Beach Provoke a Hamptons Debate

New York Times, July 19, 2003
229 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036
Fax: 212-556-3622

By Corey Kilgannon

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y.—At Two Mile Hollow Beach, the longtime center of gay life in the Hamptons, the language of the parking lot pickup scene is very specific.

On any given summer weekend evening, there may be dozens of men parked alone in the lot here. When a driver arrives wanting to participate, he typically flashes his brake lights and parks. Then he may flip on his interior light and see who pulls up next to him.

Otherwise, two cars may pass each other like jousting knights and, if they like what they see, pull into adjacent parking spots to meet. Immediate sex is usually the goal, and the men either have it in their cars or wander onto the beach or the dunes.

Participants say they see the same faces cruising the lot every week, but one Friday evening last month, four new men appeared in unmarked cars and wandered onto the beach. They were undercover police officers and they soon saw two men having oral sex.

They arrested the men for public lewdness and three others for public urination. Since then, the East Hampton Village Police Department has run additional Friday night undercover operations and increased uniformed patrols looking for sex offenders.

The crackdown has since escalated into a public controversy, with officials and some residents saying the operation is a response to clearly inappropriate and unlawful public behavior and many gays saying it has become a form of harassment.

“It’s like a bomb dropped here,” said Clifton Nordmeier, 48, one of the two men arrested last month on a public sex charge. “It’s a real step back for us. People don’t feel comfortable down there anymore.”

But town officials and many residents say the actions are not anti-gay, but rather an appropriate attempt to curb illegal public sex acts.

“This is not about being gay,” said the East Hampton Village administrator, Larry Cantwell. “We have always recognized the gay community as an important part of East Hampton.”

The issue arose after the police received complaints from residents of Further Lane, a picturesque road lined with oceanfront mansions behind tall hedgerows and whose residents include Jerry Seinfeld, the art dealer Larry Gagosian and the the Washington lobbyist Liz Robbins.

There have been no additional arrests, but the police presence alone has riled many regular users of the beach and caused an uproar in the East End’s gay community. So has the action of some local residents trying to crack down on gay sexual activity here by hiring uniformed security guards to patrol the beach and parking lot and to videotape people engaged in sex acts.

Mr. Nordmeier, a postal clerk from East Hampton, said he was handcuffed on the beach that night, June 13, and marched into the parking lot in front of many onlookers. He was taken to the station house and charged with public lewdness and his name was listed in news stories.

“I literally felt crucified,” he said. “It was so public. I felt like I had been strung up in the parking lot.”

He was released later that night on bail and told by a judge recently that the infraction would be dismissed if he committed no other violations for six months.

Tom Kirdahy, a co-chairman of the East End Gay Organization, said that most gay beachgoers agreed with and obeyed the public sex laws, but saw the recent resident and police action as “crackdowns to stop us from meeting one another.”

“We want assurances this is not about homophobia,” he said.

In early June, a group called the Further Lane Association began complaining to the village police about public sex and urination by beachgoers. The residents hired a private security firm to patrol the beachfront property, videotape beachgoers having sex and urinating and give the tapes to the East Hampton Village Police Department, said the police chief, Gerard Larsen Jr.

None of the resident group’s members have been identified publicly, but gay leaders and village officials say that their movement is spearheaded by the Wall Street investor Ron Baron, who last year bought a $23 million beachfront property, apparently unaware of the beach’s history as a gay trysting place. Mr. Baron’s gray, atrium-style house is separated from the beach by about 400 yards of vegetation. For weeks, uniformed guards have been stationed at the end of his property watching over men in skimpy bathing suits.

After the situation made newspaper headlines (an East Hampton Star editorial called the arrests “anti-gay” and a “witch hunt,” and The East Hampton Independent ran the front-page headline “Home Sweet Homophobia?”), the Further Lane Association hired a publicist, who said the group would discontinue using security guards on the beach.

The publicist, Cathy Callegari, said that Mr. Baron’s was one of 10 households that make up the association. She said that Mr. Baron was far from homophobic and in fact had gone to great lengths to care for an employee with AIDS who died in 1992.

“This is not a gay issue,” she said. “It’s a legal issue.”

Mr. Baron did not respond to phone messages left at his office, but an assistant there sent an e-mail message outlining the Further Lane Association’s recommendations for the beach, which include closing the parking lot at night and strictly enforcing public sex and nude sunbathing laws, “with the intent to make our neighborhood safe and enjoyable for individual homeowners, their families and guests as well as residents and visitors to East Hampton.”

Chief Larsen insisted that the police enforcement was directed at illegal behavior, not at sexual preference. “It’s a not a gay thing,” he said. “It’s enforcing the law.”

“If there are no crimes, then no one’s getting arrested. Nobody’s pleading not guilty. They’re saying, ‘This has been going on for 50 years; why can’t it continue?’”

The chief said that after receiving complaints of public sex and urination, he began sending undercover officers to the beach on Friday nights for “surveillance, not a raid,” and that his officers were given clear orders to arrest only those people having “blatantly public sex.”

“I told them, ‘If you can actually see it happening, arrest them. If you can’t see it, don’t,’” he explained. “I instructed them that if people are having sex in a car and it’s dark, don’t get involved. If they’re under a blanket 50 yards down the beach, leave them alone. But if they’re 50 feet off the blacktop and engaged in a blatant oral-sex act, not hiding it, that’s public lewdness.”

Chief Larsen said that officials from the security firm hired to patrol the beach had told him that guards would patrol the beach, videotape public sex acts and possibly make civilian arrests.

He said he had received complaints that guards were shining lights at gay beachgoers and following them on the beach. He said he warned security officials that “It has to stop because you very well may be committing harassment.”

This summer, social and sexual activity has increased at Two Mile Hollow, now that there are no gay bars left in the Hamptons. The last of them, the Swamp in Wainscott, which Andy Warhol and Truman Capote frequented in the 1970’s, began getting a heterosexual crowd last summer. Gay beach users here say the beach remained the only spot for gay men to mingle without shame, embarrassment or fear of being arrested.

For some, it is a pickup spot, with a serious cruising scene on weekend evenings. For others, it is simply a vital place to congregate and converse. Many gay beachgoers go to the beach at any time of day to converse, sip coffee and walk their dogs.

Andrew Friedman, 44, a real estate agent from Brooklyn walking his German shepherd, Beethoven, on Tuesday evening, called the crackdown another example of the historic persecution of gays.

“It’s an insult and it’s annoying and it’s been going on through the centuries,” he said. “Until they put us on a train to Buchenwald, my lifestyle’s not going to change.”

On the other hand, a man walking the beach at sunset sipping from a glass of red wine, who said he was 45, gay and a personal trainer, agreed with the homeowners.

“This is a public beach,” he said. “If I spent $18 million on a home here, I certainly wouldn’t want to watch people having sex on my dune. You should see this beach on a Friday night. There’s like 100, 150 cars in this parking lot. It’s out of control.”

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