Is That a Badge in Your Pocket? Or are you just happy to see me?

Are OC's cops a little too excited about busting men for gay sex?

Birmingham summarizes their early findings this way: "If police officers find a straight couple having public sex, they'll usually tell them to take it home. But two men kissing will get arrested."

She chuckles and adds: "And if the police come across two lesbians? They'll probably pay to watch."

Santa Ana attorney John Covas remembers defending a case in which he pored over 18 months of 647 arrest reports from the Anaheim Police Department. "They all read like they were from the same script," says Covas. All but one were arrests of gay males or men the officers assumed were gay. The only exception was a straight couple arrested for doing it in the parking lot at Disneyland."

It's not only the demographics of 647 arrests that trouble defense attorneys and others familiar with these cases, but also the law-enforcement tactics employed to make the arrests. "They almost always use undercover operations," says Loftin. "And they design these stings to target gay or bisexual males."

Arrest reports indicate that officers loiter in or around men's restrooms and other known sex-cruising spots. ("We don't get complaints about women's restrooms," says Phillips.) Beyond that, they are often accused of employing the suggestive nonverbal signals of willing sexual cruisers-from tapping a foot on the restroom floor to touching their genitals through their pants to, in a recent case in Long Beach, lingering in a health-club shower with a hard-on.

Phillips won't comment on the CMPD's strategy-"This is, after all, an undercover assignment," he points out-but he makes no apology for it. "If a perpetrator perceives that there is a willing partner in the restroom and performs a lewd act, an arrest is made," he says.

However, most law-enforcement agencies acknowledge they rarely if ever undertake similar undercover efforts to target lewd heterosexual conduct, such as sending out attractive female vice officers as non-prostitution bait (that is, women indicating they're available for free, consensual sex) for straight men. Other typically heterosexual sex crimes-like flashing or indecent exposure-are usually handled by uniformed officers.

"So why is this kind of police work done undercover when it comes to gay men?" Loftin asks. "What are the police hoping to accomplish? If they are just trying to stop the behavior, wouldn't a patrol by a uniformed officer be a better deterrent? Even parking an empty police car near one of these restrooms-wouldn't that send a discouraging message?"

 

He's got an olive complexion with a medium build and a flat stomach. He's very attentively groomed. His beard is black and trimmed into a path that diligently follows the line of his jaw. His hair is full and wavy-kind of like Liberace's, except styled with gel instead of a blow dryer. He's wearing hiking boots. His hands are mostly in his pockets, deep in his pockets. It's obvious that all of his fingers work because beneath the denim and cotton fleece you can see them squirming.

He wasn't here when I got to Estancia Park. In fact, the grounds were completely empty, which kind of surprised me. This place is supposed to have a bustling tea room (the refined euphemism for restrooms where men meet and often have sex with one another).

That's what it said on the Cruising for Sex Web site (www.cruisingforsex.com), which lists tea rooms throughout Orange County. And that's good enough for the CMPD. "We get some of our intelligence information from that Web site," says Phillips. Some of the places tea rooms exist seem so unlikely. Such as the one at John Wayne Airport, near the United Airlines gate. Or the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach. Others are almost legendary, such as Hillcrest Park in Fullerton, Santiago Park in Anaheim, Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, and the Dana Point Marina.

One theory has it that tea rooms derive from an era when homosexual sex was even less accepted and more persecuted than it is today. There is evidence that tea rooms still tend to serve a clientele, if you will, that is secretive, embarrassed or afraid: closeted homosexuals and bisexuals, as well as other men, many of them married, who are curious, experimental, compulsive or otherwise periodically indulge that aspect of their sexuality. Others insist the arrangement goes back much further. "I would assume it's been going on since the beginning of time," says Keith Griffith, founder of the Cruising for Sex Web site, which provides worldwide listings of tea rooms, glory holes, bath houses, bookstores, bars and all kinds of other man-on-man sex hangouts, as well as suggestions about cruising etiquette, tips about health, and advice for dealing with the law. "Anywhere that men have their dicks out at the same time, some of them are going to be aroused, and some of them are going to act upon it. It's only natural. It has always been."

But there wasn't any tea party going on when I arrived at Estancia Park, and that was fine with me. All I wanted was a brief look at the park's 5-acre geography and the layout of its tiny restroom-the better to understand its many mentions in police and court documents. But about 30 seconds after parking my car, as I walked toward the gardens and the old adobe that commemorate when Estancia Park was a way station for the Spanish missionaries of 18th-century California, a man driving a late-model Jeep Sport scooted into the lot and backed into the space right next to mine.

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