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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Another Toilet Cruiser Busted

posted by on September 18 at 10:32 AM

This time in North Carolina.

The charge against a Boca Raton Episcopal priest who was arrested in a sex sting operation in a Waynesville, N.C. park restroom may violate his constitutional rights…. Fr. Michael Penland was charged on June 28 with “soliciting for a crime against nature” in Waynesville Recreation Park….

Who’s coming to the defense of the reverend? Not the Episcopal church, which suspended Fr. Penland from his duties at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton. It’s the gays that are coming to his defense—“Bathroom sting violates priest’s rights, lawyers say,” reads the headline in Florida’s Express Gay News—and the American Civil Liberties Union. Yesterday the ACLU submitted a “friend of the court” brief backing Sen. Larry Craig, arguing that the “secret sting operation used by the police to arrest Senator Craig was not ‘carefully crafted’ to avoid ensnaring innocent speech.”

Returning to Father Penland: the disgraced priest, like the disgraced senator, is not gay identified. He’s been married for 17 years. As I pointed out when the Larry Craig scandal broke, most of the men out there cruising public toilets are straight—or straight-identified—and not openly gay. (Although some openly gay men do, of course, cruise toilets.) Yet it’s openly gay people and publications that rush to the defense of these men when they get into trouble.

But there’s an important distinction to be made between Penland’s case and Craig’s, a distinction that puts Penland’s arrest for—hardy har har—soliciting “a crime against nature” in an entirely different light. The priest didn’t intend to have sex in a public place. Returning to Express Gay News

According to the arrest report, Penland followed Det. Tyler Trantham into a public restroom around 11:30 a.m. and asked Trantham to go home with him to have sex. Penland allegedly got into his car and followed the officer to another location. He was pulled over by a second officer, Crystal Shuler, who issued a citation, took his picture and released him. Penland did not go to jail.

Says the Express Gay News:

The report does not depict any sexual behavior taking place in the bathroom, public park or in Penland’s vehicle. It only states that Penland propositioned the undercover detective to engage in anal sex at a private location.

Says the ACLU:

“What [Penland] did was not a crime,” the ACLU’s Rosenwald said. “It’s not wrong to proposition someone and then go home.”

Look, I sympathize with people that have been arrested in public sex stings. It’s gotta suck. But as I said in “Savage Love” last week, part of the thrill of public sex is the risk. You might get caught, you might get into trouble. But Penland wasn’t engaging in public sex, and didn’t intend to engage in public sex. It’s clear—beyond all reasonable doubt—that Larry Craig did intend to get it on in that toilet at the Minneapolis Airport. As gay journalist and one-time toilet cruiser Rex Wockner proved, Craig’s actions meant one thing and one thing only. Craig didn’t invite that undercover to accompany him to Idaho. He intended to get it on in that airport toilet.

Now do I think paying cops to sit in cruisy toilets at aiports is a wise use of police resources? No, I don’t. But getting it on in public restrooms is illegal, and I’m not going to rush to the barricades to defend closet cases, straight men with a taste for cock, or the odd openly gay sexual adventurer. I agree with the ACLU: if a public restroom becomes a cruising spot, “[the police] should put up a sign banning sex in the restroom and send in a uniformed officer to patrol periodically.”

But I will man the barricades to defend Father Penland. It is not illegal for for one man to hit on another; a pass may be unwelcome, and it may be ill-advised (Waynesville, N.C.?), but it is not a crime—against nature or anything else.

This case, unlike Craig’s, is all about criminalizing the brand male piggishness that women are forced to endure every day. It’s about protecting straight men from the treatment they meat out to straight women.

Penland should sue. But, alas, it’s unlikely that Penland will challenge his arrest. Says the Express Gay News

Penland could sue the Waynesville Police Department for false arrest or for violating his constitutional rights. [But] Penland and others who are caught in similar stings frequently choose not to challenge the charges because of the stigma associated with such an arrest.

Fighting public sex stings is nearly impossible because the kind of men arrested in bathrooms—straight-identified messes, cowardly closet cases—are the least likely to stand up for their rights to adult, private, consensual sexual conduct. And that’s all Penland was looking for: sex in private, between consenting adults. Which is legal in all 50 states, including North Carolina.

RSS icon Comments


It’s about protecting straight men from the treatment they meat out to straight women.

You mean "mete"?

Posted by bma | September 18, 2007 10:39 AM

@1: I think 'meat' is an awesome pun, deliberate or not.

Posted by Chip | September 18, 2007 10:40 AM

@1 Damn, beet me to it.
Also yes, fitting. Though there seems to something wrong with "brand male piggishness" perhaps you were going for brash?

Posted by arandomdude | September 18, 2007 10:52 AM

It's a fair point, but legality/illegality aside, I don't think many straight men are propositioning women in restrooms (that guy at Qwest Field last year aside)? I would even say (maybe wrongly?) that most women feel reasonably secure from the unwanted advances of straight men while in the powder room?

What is it with the restrooms? Find a bar somewhere to work your silver-tongued magic...

Waynesville is in one of the stixier parts of what is a pretty stixy state...

Posted by GoodGrief | September 18, 2007 10:57 AM

Yeah, this definitely seems like a different case than Craig's. Soliciting sex in a private location is not and should never be illegal.

On another note, it would seem that if the goal of cruisy toilet stings was really about curbing public sex, and not to shame gay men, then simply posting a policeman by the restroom for a while would be sufficient to scare away the cruisers without the hassle of arrest and trial. These aren't hardened criminals they're dealing with.

Posted by tsm | September 18, 2007 11:06 AM

@4, i think the answer to your question should be obvious; if men and women shared restrooms, we'd see more of these types of solicitations from straight men... In fact, I'd wager it would dwarf the amount of gay solicitations EASILY.

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | September 18, 2007 11:18 AM

Yeah, this is totally bullshit. While I personally find no desire to hit on guys in a bathroom, it isn't and shouldn't be illegal. If I'm simply propositioning a guy to go have sex at home (or a hotel or wherever), then it shouldn't matter if I hit on him in a bar, a grocery store line, or a bathroom. He can say no if he's not interested. He can't arrest me.

Posted by SDA in SEA | September 18, 2007 11:25 AM

@5, re that last line - well, maybe not upon ENTERING the bathroom...

Posted by Wowza | September 18, 2007 11:37 AM

once this goes before a judge the case is over, right? there is actually no law broken. a judge would have to cite the law, and he would come up with nothing pin on this guy. isn't that how it works, even in the sticks?

Posted by ellarosa | September 18, 2007 12:00 PM

Note that the crime he was accused of is solicitation of a crime against nature. This was not an arrest for a public or potentially public sex act. Welcome to North Carolina. See link below for an analysis of why these arrests continue to be made even after Lawrence.

Posted by fribster | September 18, 2007 12:18 PM

from the above link: " Lawrence made clear that law enforcement officers may no longer arrest hetero- or homosexual people for CAN activity in private, but officers are still making CAN arrests for activity occurring in public as well as for solicitation to perform acts of CAN in public or in an unspecified place."

far as i can see, he still didn't violate this stupid law, because the place was specified, and it was a private place (which CAN allows). is the public solicitation itself the offense? if so, the law is not worded correctly for this. is any solicitation, even non-monetary, the offense? basic freedom of speech laws trump it. but that requires an appeal, i guess.

Posted by ellarosa | September 18, 2007 1:05 PM

#4: That is the whole REASON we have male and female bathrooms in the first place, so men won't hit on, harass, or otherwise assault women when they have their pants down.

If there were unisex bathrooms everywhere, you bet men would harass women in them all the time, rendering them unusuable to women at all.

This why they have women-only cars in the Japan subway.

Posted by duh | September 18, 2007 5:22 PM

Oops, the "duh" is on me, #6.

Posted by duh | September 18, 2007 5:24 PM

Let the gay witch hunts begin!

Posted by Aqua | September 18, 2007 9:59 PM

"It’s clear—beyond all reasonable doubt—that Larry Craig did intend to get it on in that toilet at the Minneapolis Airport."

Wrong. As the ACLU pointed out, the law has no idea what Larry Craig's intentions were (or any of the other men arrested in the Mnpls. Airport). And even if public sex was Craig's intention, since when do we arrest someone for their intentions? A law has to be broken before someone can be arrested and charged. Larry Craig, closeted asshole that he is, broke no laws.

Posted by TwistedMister | September 19, 2007 12:53 PM

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