3 min

More Calgary harassment

Clampdown on park cruisers after tub raid

Credit: Gareth Kirkby

If Calgary residents complaining about an increase in gay sex in a city park want to point a finger, it should be in the direction of the Calgary police after December’s raid on the Goliath’s bathhouse, Cowtown’s queer activists say.

“I have no problem slapping the police service across the back of the head with that,” says Calgary activist Stephen Lock.

In fact, say local activists, it’s about time the city stopped picking on queers and accept that park sex is going to happen and has done so for a long time.

Southwest city residents and a group called Friends of North Glenmore Park claim activities in the park have tripled since police raided Calgary’s lone bathhouse Dec 12, 2002 and arrested everyone there.

Residents claim activity in the park has gone on for a decade but Lock says it’s been a traditional queer space for 30 years.

And, complaining Glenmore residents have hidden behind anonymity and held closed door meetings with city officials claiming they fear reprisals. Similarly, the bathhouse raid was based on two complaints which have remained anonymous.

“Parks are very much a part of queer culture,” Lock stresses, adding fellow activist Kevin Purdy attended a Jun 18 residents’ meeting. “Men have always found secluded spots to have sex, whether it’s with the farmer’s daughter or the farmer’s son.”

But, says Lock, to ask the queer community to police the activity as some residents have suggested is ludicrous.

“It’s more people from their own community or suburbs,” he says.

Alderperson Barry Erskine represents the ward where the park is. He agrees this is not a gay community issue.

“These are married men with families,” he says. “It’s spilling out into public areas. It’s very in-your-face.

“We’ve had it. We’re going to do a take-back-the-park initiative.”

In addition to having more than 50 volunteers parading around the park with placards, Erskine says people with petitions will circulate. He says those who won’t sign are obviously part of the problem.

Lock says many of the men using the parks do not identify as queer and would not be reached by ads through the queer media. He says the residents should be asking for ads to be put in The Calgary Herald or Calgary Sun to reach the park users.

“Since these are not gay men, then the gay community network doesn’t reach these people,” he says.

Trying to get that message through to the residents, he says, is next to impossible.

And, while use of the tub has returned to near normal levels, some remain afraid to go there as a result of the raid. Many could be looking for other sexual outlets, Lock says.

Meanwhile, the city has done its best to push cruisers out of the park. Washrooms were re-designed, foliage trimmed back, a new bylaw passed making it illegal to step off the gravel and paved paths to “protect the sensitive ecosystem” of the park, and green dye was spread through popular cruising areas until residents objected.

Even backing into a parking space will soon be illegal, says Erskine.

“Perhaps with this new law, people will divorce their wives and marry their boyfriends,” he adds.

Lock says at one town hall meeting someone suggested setting bear traps for men. He says queers have as much right to use the park as do area residents who claim it’s their park.

University of Calgary gay and lesbian studies professor Kevin Alderson goes one step further.

He says research shows more than 50 percent of men meeting in washrooms for man-to-man sex are married. He says that can be applied to park sex as well. It’s something society should accept and designate areas for, he adds.

“It’s going to happen,” Alderson says. “If you don’t want it in front of you, set up a place where it can happen.”

Erskine agrees. He suggests those who want to cruise get their own fenced piece of land and issue pass cards.

Using the Calgary police and other city departments to push queers around the city is nothing new.

A downtown park known as “The Sacred Grove” located between several queer bars was a popular sex spot until the city installed high-powered lights and cut back the bushes. But, says Lock, the drug dealers and prostitutes who then moved into the area have become a nuisance with little done by police to move them on.

Cruisers around the city zoo have long been subject to increased surveillance as have those in another park near the intersection of Deerfoot and Memorial Trails.

While the debate continues, the Goliath’s case is slowly making its way through the courts.

Of the 13 men charged under an archaic section of the Criminal Code as found-ins at a common bawdy house, only one has chosen to plead guilty in order to challenge the indecency section of the Criminal Code. The rest opted to be dealt with through the court’s alternative measures.

The case will be heard Nov 17-21 following a lengthy wait for full case disclosure from Crown prosecutors.

To date, the case has cost more than $5,000. The Goliath’s Defence Fund sits at $2,094, partially due to a donation of $1,000 by Cruiseline-operated by Pink Triangle Press which publishes Xtra West.