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Under the Radar News Stories

While I’ve been waiting for the weather to warm up, I’ve been catching up on some news items that may have flown beneath the radar.

First up is the news of the January 3 arrest of Jermaine Jakes, busted for masturbating in a park known as a popular cruising spot. He is the son of immensely popular preacher TD Jakes, whose novels Woman Thou Art Loosed and Not Easily Broken have been turned into Hollywood films. TD Jakes has not been as rabidly homophobic as other religious figures, and has met with the gay activist group Soulforce, but he has described gay people as broken in the past. This reminds me of the Chris Rock remark about the thing you hate always ending up in your family.

I think Jakes was the only person arrested in this instance, but There’s been increased focus on public cruising. The first person to come to mind is Larry Craig, whose troubles began in a bathroom. In New York, enough men have been arrested for prostitution under questionable circumstances in adult bookstores that they held a protest at mayor Michael Bloomberg’s house on Valentine’s Day. In east Tennessee, Blount County officials received national attention after making several busts near a TVA boat ramp in June 2008, and when the action moved to Knoxville’s Tyson Park, fifteen people were arrested there in December 2008.

Reaction to these arrests showed a lack of understanding and something of a gay generation gap in regard to cruising. As LGBTs come out at earlier and earlier ages, and are more comfortable with the options available online, many younger people don’t understand the appeal of parks, truck stops and bathrooms, which have historically been gay meeting places and, for better or worse, continue to be held in high regard by some people. Others say people who frequent these locations are closeted men who should be out and proud, but that may not be true. The only study of public anonymous gay sex is the infamous 1970 book Tearoom Trade, in which a researcher used false pretenses to contact 100 men he observed participating in this activity. Fifty four of them were married and living with their wives. Only fourteen identified as gay. Does that mean the down low dates back to 1970? Or does it mean some men have sexual urges so great that, even if straight, they will do anything for a quickie? Nobody knows for sure.

Elsewhere in the south, a student at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, Gerren Gaynor, wrote an inflammatory editorial bemoaning the increased visibility of gay men at the historically black university. Titled When Does Gay Tolerance Go Too Far?, and apparently inspired by the sight of one too many male purses on campus, Gaynor uncorked the instantly infamous lines, we have a certain image to uphold and a man with hair weave just isn't it, and if I have to look twice to tell if I'm looking at a man or woman on an all-male campus, then something is tragically wrong. He also wondered if the school would be able to dismiss a gay man who decided to have gender reassignment surgery, calling on some of the most outdated gay stereotypes.

This is the latest incident to give Morehouse some unwanted attention. Despite being the alma mater of Martin Luther King, Spike Lee, Julian Bond and Samuel L. Jackson, Morehouse has acquired a reputation as being less than welcoming towards gays, being repeatedly named one of the 20 most homophobic campuses by Princeton Review. A 2002 incident in which a gay man was beaten after being accused of staring at someone in the shower resulted in changes to improve the atmosphere on campus, but Gaynor’s commentary shows how much work remains to be done. Thankfully, most people have responded in horror to the article, and it has generated some much-needed dialogue among LGBT students at black colleges. The most amusing thing about this affair was seeing the accompanying photo of Gaynor, who looks like a lost member of Noah’s Arc.

Finally, the case of the four San Diego firemen who sued the city for sexual harrassment after riding in a gay pride parade won a judgment of $34,300 after a previous trial ended in a mistrial. It’s a far cry of the millions they were seeking, but they have the satisfaction of changing the city’s policy of making firemen appear at events they may not support. I guess the next time a cat is rescued from a tree in San Diego, you can be assured of their love of felines.

Their case centered on being ordered to participate in the 2007 parade after the firemen who originally agreed to be there backed out. When they observed semi-nude men whistling and performing simulated sexual acts while they rode the fire engine, they decided it was sexual harrassment, made worse by the fact some people in the crowd assumed they were gay. Two interesting aspects of the trial were that the firemen stated they never felt endangered, and they disagreed on how pervasive the offending acts were, with descriptions ranging from intermittent to pretty much throughout.

Further doubt about the true motives of the lawsuit was cast when it was discovered their legal counsel was provided by the Thomas More Law Center, an ultra-conservative Christian group who initially blamed the whole affair on "radical homosexual activists." Perhaps this was a matter not so much about offended firemen as an opportunity for homophobic groups to gain publicity and further their agenda.

From “Blackout” for 2/23/09 by Anthony Rucker


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