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.)

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