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Cracking down on cruising for sex

By
August 31, 2007

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is putting a new focus on efforts by authorities to curtail cruising for sex in public places.

On Wednesday, police said the Idaho Republican was one of 41 people arrested since May at the airport on allegations of illegal sexual activity in public restrooms.

While it’s not clear if the Internet played a role in Craig’s case, Web discussions have become a common forum for directing people to hot spots for anonymous gay sex.

Craig was arrested in June when he signaled to an officer in an adjoining restroom stall that he was interested in engaging in “lewd conduct,” according to a misdemeanor charge filed against him.

He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 1 and was fined $575, but said this week he regrets the plea and that he “did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport.”

Two of the airport arrests were linked to personal ads posted on craigslist, a popular site featuring free classified ads grouped by urban areas.

Another Web site lists Twin Cities-area malls, parks, health clubs and even a “cruisy toilet” at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Many postings list the best times to go and give graphic reviews of the venues.

An airport bathroom, specifically one near a shoeshine stand behind the ticket counter, generated the most comments until Web-site users posted warnings in June that men were getting arrested there. Craig was arrested shortly after noon on June 11 in the main men’s public restroom of the North Star Crossing in the Lindbergh Terminal.

Experts weren’t surprised by Craig’s arrest, but there are different opinions about how the Internet has changed the dynamics of the subculture that seeks out anonymous sex in public places.

Historians have documented similar conduct going back 200 years in urban communities, but the Internet has raised awareness of both men looking for sex and police looking to arrest them, said Richard Tewksbury, a professor of justice administration at the University of Louisville who has researched such behavior for nearly 20 years.

“The Internet has … provided greater awareness to individuals who previously didn’t have any realization that such behavior went on,” Tewksbury said. “But it’s really a wash for law enforcement, because they certainly monitor these sites and know the locales.”

Eli Coleman, a sexual-health professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said there’s no evidence that the Internet has increased anonymous sexual activity.

“Anywhere men gather is a potential source,” Coleman said. “Years ago, it was downtown skyway bathrooms.”

Airport police officials wouldn’t say how many of the arrests were related to its undercover enforcement effort to reduce such activity, said Kathleen Bangs, the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s public information officer.

But the airport doesn’t have any greater problems with sex in restrooms that any other airport, Bangs said.

Jack Lanners, the commission’s chairman, said he’s proud of the work done by airport police. There are a variety of ongoing investigations, and keeping tabs on sex in restrooms is one of them, he said.

“It happened there was a U.S. senator involved,” Lanners said, “and the incident was like any other incident we run across.”

A landmark study in the 1970s revealed that most men cruising for anonymous sex were married to women. “Some are truly gay and have been closeted and this is one of their few, if not only, opportunities for sex with other men,” Tewksbury said.

Craig, who is married, stood outside a stall occupied by Sgt. David Karsnia of the Airport Police and looked in through the crack between the door and the frame. He entered the stall next to Karsnia and placed his bag against the front of his stall door, a common tactic for concealing sexual conduct, police reports said.

Karsnia said Craig tapped his foot, a signal that he was interested in having sex, the reports said. Craig eventually swiped his hand under the stall divider. During a news conference Tuesday, Craig said he has hired an attorney to review his case. With his wife by his side, Craig also said he isn’t gay.

On Wednesday, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune obtained the airport police reports of the 41 men arrested for sexual misconduct since May. Nearly every report said a plainclothes officer was conducting a detail in response to complaints of sexual activity in the restroom at Lindbergh Terminal’s North Star Crossing.

The ages of those arrested range from 21 to 75, and seven of the men list their employer as Northwest Airlines. Almost every man followed a pattern of activity similar to Craig’s.

Somebody would look in the stall, tap a foot and wait for a return tap. A hand was run underneath the stall divider. Some men stuck their heads underneath the stall.

One man was an account executive for Revlon who listed a Park Avenue address in New York City. Another was a retail executive from Duluth, Minn.

(Contact the reporters at dchanen(at)startribune.com and curt.brown(at)startribune.com.)

7 Responses to Cracking down on cruising for sex

  1. keith

    August 31, 2007 at 10:21 am

    This still all sounds like entrapment to me.

    If homosexuality hadn’t remained such a HUGE religious taboo in our culture, there would be absolutely NO need for people so inclined to frequent “secret” meeting places like airport bathrooms in the first place. They could then meet their prospective partners out on park benches…just like we heterosexuals do.

    That, in turn, would totally eliminate the need for various taxpayer supported “vigilante squads” like those in Minneapolis who feel compelled to patrol various public venues to apparently insure, among other things, that every male has his fly zipped before leaving the restroom.

    Many other cultures (and governments) in other parts of the world have now freely accepted homosexuality as a natural part of human sexuality. Why can’t we?

    But, then again, just like Bush’s stupid, trumped-up “war on terror”, this issue is REALLY all about religion, isn’t it?

  2. www.nazilieskill.us

    August 31, 2007 at 11:13 am

    I don’t like it much when police departments have to encourage human weakness in order to arrest people, who are basically a nuisance. These are easy arrests of “consenting” adults. Most of the major crimes that plague this nation are perfectly legal because the crooks write the laws. NAFTA is a good example. This Idaho senator is human filth because of his long legislative rap sheet. The fact that he is a hypocritical gay is not much of a fault. Still. He won’t be missed.

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming

  3. Donnat

    August 31, 2007 at 11:58 am

    This wouldn’t be an issue
    if the GOP hadn’t MADE it an issue with their ‘gay marriage amendment’ furor in 2006. The lesson to these closeted hypocrites is be careful what you push to the forefront of the nation’s radar, it may come back to bite you.

    Donnat

  4. Petro

    August 31, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Despite the huge flood of information that has been in our media and in blogs, the fact that anonymous gay sex tends to be a generational ‘thing’ seems to have been largely glossed over. Most younger gay men are much more likely to attempt to meet, just as user ‘keith’ said, in places like park benches or other legal venues.
    Today, the washroom pick-up tends to be the refuge of those whose sexual acculturation took place in times/places where such dire secrecy was needed or for those who are deeply closeted — living double lives.
    On another note, this poster feels that such focus on this, a minority of gay men further skews the conception of those who are rather out of touch with the realities of the homosexual in the US. It is hoped that the savvy media consumer will see those creeping in public toilets as pathetic, deserving our pity as much as our scorn and ridicule.

  5. adamrussell

    September 1, 2007 at 2:13 am

    It seems to me there are plenty of gay bars and other more reasonable venues to meet other gay people. I think the problem is not that they want gay sex, its that they want anonymous sex.

  6. lexiedogmom

    September 1, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Lexie Homewood
    Those who have had the courage to come out don’t need to hunt for anonymous sex. This behavior is risky both legally and medically. I feel bad for the women who are being used as a cover for the guys who cannot come out.

    Having sid that, I think it is a waste of police resources. I could be wrong, but I so doubt that this behavior would be going on in the presence of kids, which is the main reason people are up in arms about it. It’s more pathetic than anything else.

  7. JArender

    September 3, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    I don’t quite understand how if 2 men do come to the conclusion that they want to have sex after all the signals are answered or whatever, WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO DO THIS? Right there in an apparently very busy mens room in the middle of an airport. I must be missing something here.