Cruising in the Park: Tennessee vs. England


Two recent reports on gay men getting caught while having outdoor sex could not paint more starkly different pictures of attitudes in the rural South vs attitudes in Great Britain:

Johnson City, Tennessee police say a two-week sex sting that led to 40 arrests for indecent behavior is “just the beginning for authorities” in the area:

“‘Part of this took place off the paved trails. There’s a thing out there (at Winged Deer Park) they’ve evidently termed the ‘Man Cave,” [Johnson City Police Chief John] Lowry said. ‘It’s a good way off the paved trail. It’s underbrush that’s grown up and resembles a cave.’ According to investigators, men frequent the Man Cave at all times of day specifically to take part in sexual activities with other men. During their investigation, undercover officers often would strike up a conversation with a man who was approaching the trail leading to the Man Cave. The conversation quickly would turn sexual and, many times, led to proposals for sex, police said.”

Those arrested range in age from 26 to 85. They have also been shamefully hung out to dry (names, addresses, all) by the local media.

In Bristol, UK, four firefighters have been disciplined for interrupting a similar scene:

“The firemen shone their torches from their engine into bushes on the Downs – an area of parkland in Bristol said to be popular with people engaging in late-night outdoor sex known as ‘dogging’ – interrupting the four as they were involved in a gay sex act. One of the group later contacted the AIDS charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, who advised him to make a formal complaint. That led to the firefighters being suspended while a three month investigation was carried out. Two of them have now been fined up to £1,000; one has been demoted in rank and the other given a written warning. Each of them has also been ordered to attend a two-day equality course. he fines are to be donated to a nominated gay-rights charity. The charity under consideration is the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), as Bristol has a large Jamaican community, although no final decision has been made. The four-man crew have also been transferred to other stations.”

Police in Tennessee said they had received public complaints of inappropriate activity, while in England “Police said they had not received any complaint, but it was an offence to commit a lewd, obscene or disgusting act in a public place, which was capable of outraging public decency.”

It’s surely hot ammo for religious conservatives and their anti-gay propaganda. Unfortunately for them, it’s all too often the Larry Craigs and Bob Allens caught up in the sting.

And it’s not always a gay issue. The photo on top is from a recent article about a show of Kohei Yoshiyuki’s photography. Yoshiyuki documented heterosexuals having sex in public parks in Tokyo in the 70’s and the peeping Toms who gathered to watch them.


  1. Will says

    And you wonder why in hell I would ever want to live in the South or anywhere in the US ever again. Poor old pearl clutchers better stay away from Europe.

  2. says

    Your title is disturbing to me. How does anyone know the sexual identity of any of these people who were caught? Why does the media assume “homosexual identity” automatically? Many of these men do not identify as gay. Read: Tea Room, a study that looked at public sex in bathrooms.

  3. Matt says

    Those firefighters in England should have been left alone. People shouldn’t fornicate in the park. There are so many hotels, motels, bathhouses, and other venues to have sex in. Some people don’t want to see people having sex either gay or straight. There is a local park near where I work where gay men cruise even when families are having picnics in broad daylight.

  4. Sean says

    Hmm… There does seem to be something off about the UK case. Even though the firefighters were in breach of internal policy by being at the cruising ground, and using their fire truck to light up the four people involved in the sex act… the fact is the four people were breaking the law.

    I suppose, if the firefighters had known that this act was likely to take place they should have reported it to the police instead of going there themselves to humiliate the people involved (it’s implied in the article that the firefighters were being homophobic).

    The fact that the firefighters ended up worse off than the people involved in the illegal act makes their anger understandable (though, not justifiable).

    I am against political correctness, I see it as an invention of the right wing as a means to prevent open discussion of sensitive issues, as well as to create an invisible enemy. I do not believe the firemen being reprimanded was an act of political correctness, though the way the situation was presented in that article seemed to imply that it was.

    Hate crime is complicated ethically I think…

    Sean xx

  5. Derrick from Philly says

    OSVALDO: You are absolutely right. The terms “gay sex” and “gay prison rape” drive me crazy. Half the men who have sex in the parks are not gay. And ALL the men who rape in prison AINT gay. But what does it matter, there’s so much division and intolerance in the gay world–who the fuck cares? (I’m still not over the ENDA thread the other day, and all the anti-transgender shit posted….”gay bigots” now, that’s an accurate term.)

  6. Bill Perdue says

    The dramatic discrepancy between the advances made in England under a Labour government and the Neanderthal approach of the good ol’ boys in the unreconstructed South highlight how urgently we need far reaching change in the US.

    In England bigoted business people can tell you they don’t like you (in which case you sue them) but if they discriminative THEY pay fines or spend time in jail.

    However these reforms don’t provide the necessary harshness to end the problem and there’s still plenty of bigotry to go around in England. Recently a local council member in London, herself a Labour Party politician, used a slander campaign to accuse her gay Lib-Dem opponent of pedophilia. She’s been fined 3,000 Euros, ordered to vacate her office, and banned from running for office for a few years. Recently police in Cornwall behaved abusively during the Pride celebration but there the matter is unsettled.

    And of course priggish, victorian, christian silly blue laws like the preposterous ban on sex outside the darkened bedroom wearing night clothes, etc. is routinely used as an excuse for officially sanctioned bigotry here and in England.

    Even the best of reforms won’t solve the problem until bigotry and the promotion of violence are harshly suppressed, which isn’t done in either country. And the biggest part of that suppression will be silencing cults who promote violence against us. Here that begins with the worst of the cults; roman catholics, southern baptists, islamic jihadists and mormons.

  7. Anton says

    Of course, I live in Johnson City. This was absolutely horrible. Not only did they list names, ages, addresses and charges of the arrested men, they had their photographs also. The night after this story was published by the local paper, I know of at least one of the men who committed suicide.

    Winged Deer Park has been a known cruising spot for years. I wonder which one they’ll bust next. I wonder what lengths they’ll go to in order to get the most attention in the media.

  8. becks07 says

    With all that action in the Man Cave (LOL), how long did those maroons think it would be a secret in that town of 56,000? Sorry, I don’t have any sympathy for sex in public places — you can talk about the stifling constrictions of Southern culture and the “gotcha” aspects of the reportage (which are shameful) all you like but public sex is a less-than-palatable aspect of our culture, full stop.

    Those folks are going to need to come in from the public parks and do the hard work of either starting up a local sex club/house party or renting a room/staying home.

    I do not feel this is priggish, Victorian or Christian — I don’t feel terribly much like any of these three. I hold hands and kiss guys in public and I’ve had darkroom action in my share of places. But not in public parks, public toilets or other locations where folks who are not interested in seeing sex (for whatever reason) will have to do so. I guess I just call it polite social behavior and feel that restraining myself in this way is a nod to a more reasonable social environment — versus one filled with rutting dog-men at every corner.

    The UK reaction blows my mind, but hey, it’s their parade.

    I can’t wait to see the flames I get for this!

  9. Luke Kennedy says

    Becks07 – Living in the UK, I don’t understand how the police reaction could blow your mind!? The fire department clearly discriminated against gay people!

    In the UK we have equal employment rights, inheritance rights, armed forces rights, tax rights, marriage rights – everything. Why should we tolerate being harrassed in public by the fire department, when they would have treated straight people differently?

    British police are already way too occupied catching terrrorists, murderers and rapists.

    Britain would be outraged if we found our police were using entrapment to catch consenting adults at taxpayers expense.
    THAT blows my mind!

  10. says

    I used to work part time week-ends at an adult video store in a city bordering a military installation. When it rained, the temperature dipped below 40 or soared above 90 The video peeps would fill up with married and single heterosexual men coming in from the parks and public restrooms whom I observed on numerous occasions engaging in same sex sexual activity. The only policy at the store was that as long as the money went into the machine (signs to the contrary be damed) they could pack as many as they wished into the booth or occupy the ones with the “good” glory holes all afternoon – usually done by aggressive older guys, much to the consternation of younger ones, with out the resources to play the same game. At no time while I was working there was the prowling population in the back room what I would consider gay men. It just seemed that out gay men had a stronger aversion to being discovered in the store by their friends at the clubs, and other gathering places, than married men.
    To my way of thinking “gay” means community, solidarity, fraternity. It’s how one expresses a positive attitude towards ones life when confronted with a world view that would prevent such. Same sex activity is same sex activity whether enjoyed and celebrated by homosexuals, heterosexuals, or bisexuals. While those holding the majority world view would find it so very convenient to reduce the value of a community of persons, by condemning the means by which members of said community celebrate pleasure with one another, it does not change the fact that for many they are condemning themselves for their own participation in the same activity.

  11. Becks07 says

    What blows my mind about the UK incident:

    * The degree of punishment meted out to the firemen
    * The fact the public sex people weren’t arrested

    And yeah, the leering firemen and their “harass the gays” game can fuck off. :-)

  12. FizziekruntNT says

    Well Becks, I’ll go ahead and stand on the pyre with you. It is, whether one would care to admit or not, a very complex issue and just like many other visitors to this site I am certain, I’ve also had my share of interesting encounters. But somehow, the “ick” factor in a society no longer pre-Christian Roman era just overrides the figuring out of what’s acceptable and what isn’t by way of degree. Even in the reeds of Blacks Beach, La Jolla (and I still gag to this day thinking of it) I was unfortunate enough to witness a 70-something year-old fat man with skin like an elephant roto-rootering himself with a clear double-ended dildo. Why do I know this in such detail you ask? Because honey, there really IS some shit you just CAN’T unsee. All I wanted was a private place to pee and well, the whole peeing in the “pool” bit, not to mention the creepy what’s-lurking-in-that-murky-water factor was enough to send me to the cliffside. I found his willful exhibitionism vile, and believe me, I’ve got some pretty sick fantasies. I also know when and where to exercise them, and a public park doesn’t factor.

    If I were to have children, and I am working on making that a reality within the next 5 years, I consider myself informed enough and intelligent enough to know there are certain places that children just shouldn’t be taken. It is my discretion to be exercised, not someone else’s, but what is so goddamned difficult about getting a room? A privacy-fenced back yard if you’re so inclined to need nature in your natural act? Hell, the front seat of the CAR for chrissakes, just not the coat closet at the cocktail party, please, unless you’re willing to foot the dry cleaning bill.

    Both parties were wrong in the respective encounters. The “unreconstructed south” as Bill put it (and agreed, blue laws really have got to go) and the enlightened jurisprudence of Great Britain but that, of course, is an entirely different discourse.

  13. Sebastain says

    I have to admit, I found it funny that they put addresses and names in the paper, but, this is how it works in small towns. The other thing, was, yet another “pastor” caught up in the round up, I wonder what he will say this Sunday, LOL!

    Want sex in public, deal with the consequences, not what most here would say, but, oh well.

  14. Anonymous says

    I was recently in London, and it came to my attention that the park right across the street from my hotel was a popular cruising spot after dark. Now, I’m not particularly fond of cruising outdoors because I worry about A) getting bashed or B) getting arrested. But one night, feeling a bit lonely, I headed over to check out the scene. I found men of all ages, shapes, sizes and degrees of hotness there, hooking up and having fun. Later in the evening, I enjoyed a particularly sweet hookup with two other guys. We wandered off into a part of the park that was totally deserted and had a blast ‘getting to know each other’. As we headed out of the park together I asked about how often guys get arrested there. One of the guys said “What? For having sex!? The police here don’t arrest you for having sex in the park. The most they would do is tell you the park is closed and that you have to go home.” They were both shocked when I told them you’d get arrested in the U.S. for having sex in a park. Oh, to live in England where we are treated just like everyone else!

  15. anon ( says

    It seems the situation in both places is nutty. Many of these people are having sex in public for the “thrill” of the chance of getting caught. There are plenty of ranches and resorts for guys to have sex outside, though perhaps not quite as anonymous or convenient if you are in the closet. Anyone charged with a crime would get their names in the paper, that’s just a matter of public record. The police should probably not be conducting sting operations unless there are complaints from ordinary citizens though. Many times this is just a way to rake in fines like speedtraps. At least these guys were actually having sex. In many cases in the past, guys would get arrested for simply loitering and charged with attempted sodomy. I don’t think they’ve struck a good balance in the law in the UK. It seems to punish people who complain a bit too much.

  16. Jordan says

    For god’s sake, get a fucking room…all you cheap-ass bastards!

    If you screw in public, you really get what you deserve. I cannot imagine doing that. I mean, front seats of cars are one thing (which are not very comfortable…been there), but in public view? That’s a psychological need you have and need help for.

  17. Paul says

    It’s interesting that everyone attacking public sex thinks they’re going to be attacked in return. But aside from the tale from the London park—and even that anonymous poster seems to have mixed feelings on the subject—no one is defending public sex. Which I think is great. As has been noted, a lot of public sex doesn’t involve gay-identified men, so Towleroad’s readership is presumably less interested in it.

    I’ll add here that, having been to Folsom Street Fair on Sunday, I’ve seen plenty of unattractive flesh on very public display to last me quite a while. (At least until next year!) I realize that’s not quite the same thing…I’m fine with exhibitionism, especially at the Fair. I just wish the people doing it were hotter.

    All that said, publishing the arrested guys’ photos and addresses was horrible. That’s certainly not done for every crime, even in small towns. Suicides were probably exactly what they wanted.

  18. John Beene says

    If either one of these cases involves entrapment or involves discriminatory enforcement then obviously a public defender needs to get involved and law enforcement needs to be reigned in. And publishing the pictures and private information of people accused or convicted of a misdemeanor is probably illegal so a public defender should get involved with that as well.

    In any case, an adult will accept reasonable limitations to behavior and actions in public places. I think most reasonable adults would say that you don’t get to have sex in public places. I say keep your pathetic fetishes and your pathetic problems to yourself! If these people are hauled in in a manner compliant with the law then I say more power to the police!

  19. DC Arnold says

    If the “Man Cave” was so far from the paved part, the local authorities had to be tipped off. This reeks of entrapment as well as a pissed queen.

  20. Pecos Bill says

    @FizziekruntNT: the way you described the 70 year old at Blacks Beach is hilarious. I had to stifle a guffaw at the office.

    I hope the loved ones of the guy(s) that committed suicide have grounds for a lawsuit. Unlikely, though.

  21. kevin says

    uhhh hey what did the firmen do wrong except report a public service and one of them got demoted.. for what.. was he invloved with the sex too? No !!!!

    those guys should have been fined and told not to do it again this is anissue of public decency

    if you are straight gay lesbian black white old young skinny fat it does not matter what your gender is or the your sexual identity.its against the law

    some people are juts stupid

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