The first four lines of the Etobicoke Guardian set the tone:
“A registered sex offender apprehended after exposing himself within the vicinity of children.
Two men charged for engaging in sexual activity in a car at a busy parking lot over the lunch hour.
A male park patron observed naked near a popular splashpad in broad daylight.
Numerous men caught with their pants down in the bushes off a well-used cycling trail.”
The tone was alarmist, its language vilifying gay sex in the wake of a self-congratulatory announcement from the Toronto police. After a six-week undercover operation, officers had nabbed 77 people (all but two were men), for having sex in the bushes.
As if the initial press conference wasn’t enough, it was followed on Nov 19, 2016, by a family-friendly Walk the Beat event, explicitly aimed at “taking back the park.” Residents were invited to help “clean up” the park, and officers gave the media and locals a tour of the areas where public sexual behavior allegedly took place (including a makeshift fort which police say men allegedly had sex in), pointing out litter, like condom wrappers, while 22 Division’s rover scouts innocuously served the kids hot chocolate and snacks.
The seemingly-amiable tour couldn’t distract from the fact that Project Marie was all too reminiscent of the Toronto 1981 bathhouse raids. So much so, that about two dozen protesters crashed the wholesome affair, calling the “walk through” a continuation and revival of old homophobic target policing.
Of course the officers insist they didn’t know the sexual orientation of the people they were trying to snare, even though they only used male officers in their undercover sting. Apparently the unit’s only female officer wasn’t available. One must wonder whether having just one female officer is part of the problem?
Police not only arrested and charged 77 people but then tried to shame them further into the closet with their bizarre sexual show-and-tell and family clean-up.
But as the protesters, and some recent op-eds have argued, initiatives like “Project Marie” — and the vilification of gay public sex — won’t deter men from having sex in the park. Cruising is a part of gay culture, and there are many of other active cruising parks in the Greater Toronto Area. If it’s not going to be a park, it will be a locker room, mall washroom or car garage.
It’s not as if we hold the monopoly on sex in the park, either. Straight couples have been having sex in parks for decades, yet the crackdowns continue against gay men.
But they won’t stop us.