BY STEVE ROTHAUS, firstname.lastname@example.org
No one keeps detailed statistics on sex in public restrooms and parks. South Florida law enforcement agencies say they receive occasional complaints and make a few arrests, but they don't spend much time cracking down on it. Since 2005, Fort Lauderdale has reported two arrests for sexual activity in a public restroom.
''I don't know whether it's the perception or the reality, but it doesn't seem like it's that much of a problem,'' Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Leljedal said.
Miami-Dade Police cracked down on public sex at Tropical Park, 7900 SW 40th St., in August 2001 and made 17 arrests. Police spokesman Juan Villalba said he knows of no current sting operations.
American University anthropology Professor William Leap has spent more than a decade researching male sex in public places. In 1999, he edited an academic compilation called Public Sex/Gay Space. His conclusion is that up to half of the men who seek this kind of sex are not gay.
''We are talking about a recreational, erotic activity that involves all different kinds of men,'' he said. ``That fact has got to get burned into public consciousness. If we are going to demonize individuals, then we need to be looking at a broad category of men. That includes ministers and city officials, all kind of respectable, upscale people.''
State Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, was charged in July with solicitation for prostitution after allegedly offering to perform oral sex for $20 on an undercover male police officer in a park restroom in Titusville. A member of the Florida House since 2000 and a married father of one, Allen has said he is not guilty.
Norman Kent, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who has specialized in defending people in these cases over the last 20 years, says half the men arrested on public sex charges are not gay.
''The percentage of people I represent on the charges, the vast number of them turn out to be very straight and very married,'' said Kent, publisher of the website NationalGayNews.com. ``They're looking for moments of instant gratification.''
Before the modern gay-rights movement, many closeted men resorted to meeting in restrooms for sex. In these times of more acceptance of gay relationships, why do some younger gay men still go to restrooms for sex? ''This is a lot more efficient use of time then going online, going into a chat room or going into a bar,'' Leap said.
``Secondly, there are gay men who prefer the ambience of the public toilet. There is nostalgia for that, for the old days. It's an alternative to what they have at home with the boyfriend or their conventional way of dating.''
Gay activists have reacted with outrage to Naugle's call to ''responsible members of the homosexual community'' to stop the public sex. While they don't deny that some men, both gay and straight, use public parks and public restrooms to meet, they object to Naugle linking an entire community to something that they say only a small percentage engages in.
''It does happen. It's headlines in the news. But we're going to pigeonhole one group that they're responsible for this? That's not the case,'' said Jeff Black, a businessman who in the aftermath of the Naugle comments helped organize a protest group, UNITE Fort Lauderdale.
Black says that ``no one in our group promotes public illicit sex in any manner.''
Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition in South Florida, said the problem is real, and Naugle ''should be applauded, not condemned'' for bringing it up.
''The majority of homosexuals and heterosexuals don't engage in public sex, and if you poll them they would say it's wrong,'' Verdugo said. ``But the issue is a valid issue that the mayor brought up in terms of public sex and listings on the website.''
Some gay-rights activists have been hesitant to talk about the mayor's comments, not wanting to draw attention to the small number of men who do engage in public sex.
''They don't want the gay community to appear on Page 1. People would think that is nasty,'' said Francis Gonzalez, a gay man in Fort Lauderdale who says he has been solicited a few times in men's rooms.
Gonzalez is critical of his mayor's comments. ''It's denigrating,'' he said. ``It makes it appear the gay community is all doing that.''