Senator Larry Craig’s arrest for soliciting sex from a male undercover officer in a Minneapolis airport men’s room just keeps making waves. He pled guilty. And now, he is trying to have his guilty plea withdrawn. While his Republican friends have abandoned him like rats from a sinking ship, some unlikely bedfellows have come to his defense. The American Civil Liberties Union — with whom he has done battle — has submitted a brief to the Minnesota court, arguing that the sting operation used to arrest Craig was unconstitutional.
Sounds promising. Maybe even breaking with sex panic that has been condemning Larry Craig from left to right.
But, defending public sex is not quite what the ACLU has in mind. No public sex for them. Their argument is rather more narrow. Police should only arrest people for soliciting sex if they can show that public sex was going to happen. Soliciting for private sex is protected under the First Amendment free speech guarantees.
According to Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, the problem is with the sting operation, not with the banning of public sex. “If police really want to stop people from having sex in public bathrooms, they should put up a sign banning sex in the restroom and send in a uniformed officer to patrol periodically. That works”
Romero continues: “Governments should make public restrooms safe for all, but it should do so in a manner that is really designed to stop inappropriate behavior, rather than destroying the lives of people who might have no intention of doing anything illegal.”
So, the ACLU seems okay with the idea that public sex is ‘inappropriate behavior.’ And, in their legal brief, they seem to give advice on how the cops should in fact go about policing public sex: signs and uniformed officers instead of sting operations.
With friends like this, who needs enemies? Well, Larry Craig does need friends, and it is probably not surprising that a smart organization like the ACLU, that is trying to challenge the outrageous use of sting operations, should frame its argument narrowly, and concede the public sex point. It is, after all, about trying to make a legal argument that is going to work. And taking on public sex, and defending it, isn’t really a winning one.
But, with every intervention, public sex is further vilified.
And no one is coming to its defense. Don’t look to the mainstream gay media. Syndicated gay sex columnist, Dan Savage has condemned public bathroom sex as “an inappropriate form of acting out” and as “pathetic and desperate.” The Washington Blade described the Craig affair as a sleazy sex story, generating “unwanted attention to down-low sex.”
Only a few voices have dared to speak out. James Hannaham, in a Salon.com article called “Why Bathroom Sex is Hot” unabashedly defended the hotness of public sex. His point: men are sluts, gay men have been particularly good at embracing their inner slut, and public sex is, well, as the title would suggest, hot.
More gay folks need to join in this chorus. The flight to more respectable issues — marriage and china patterns — has made it all too easy for gay folks to join in the sex panic, rather than fight against it.
Regardless of whether you like public sex, or have public sex, it is a part of the gay community’s history and remains part of its present. It isn’t just closeted Republicans who cruise for public sex. And it isn’t just closeted men. Lots of folks still cruise, or if you’re British, cottage. The popularity of websites like Squirt is a testimony to the fact that this is still part of our culture, and our practice.
A sex panic swirling around gay sex can never be good for the gay community. But, the answer is not to try to distance ourselves from it, but to take it by the horns. We need to condemn the panic, not the sex. Anything else is a sell-out to who we are. And we risk losing sight of a crucial legal issue: consensual sex shouldn’t be a crime. Even with closeted self-hating Republicans.