Jesse’s Journal by Jesse Monteagudo
“Stop the Arrests!”
It is hard to believe, but almost forty years after the Stonewall Riots gay men are still being harassed by the New York City Police Department. Since 2004, the NYPD has entrapped and arrested 52 gay or bisexual men on trumped-up prostitution charges in eight adult video stores in Manhattan. In each case, an attractive young man would approach an older man who is minding his own business in the sex shop and proposition him. Once the older man agrees to the proposition, the younger man would offer his partner money for sex, and then proceed to arrest him for “prostitution.”
Though police entrapment is bad enough, it is not the whole story. In fact, most of the time the men are not convicted of prostitution. Instead, at the advice of their lawyers, the men plead guilty to “disorderly conduct”, pay a fine, attend a health course for “sex workers” and agree to keep their mouths shut. The NYPD then proceeds against its real target, Manhattan’s gay or gay friendly adult video stores. Using its 1977 “nuisance abatement” law, the City would sue the porn shops, asking the courts to close them down for allegedly “allowing” prostitution to go on in the premises. This, of course, is part of the decade-long campaign by NYC’s former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his successor Michael Bloomberg to turn Manhattan into a Disneyland for tourists.
All this would have gone undetected, even by the GLBT community, if it wasn’t for the hard work of two gay men. The first one of this dynamic duo is Duncan Osborne, associate editor of New York’s Gay City News (www.gaycitynews.com
), who exposed the whole sordid campaign in a series of hard-driven news stories. The second man is Robert Pinter, who was one of a dozen men arrested last year at the Blue Door Video in the East Village. Though Pinter also pled guilty to “disorderly conduct,” he refused to go away quietly. Instead, Pinter decided to fight back. He started a new group, the Coalition to Stop the Arrests, “in response, not just to my arrest, but to this whole pattern of arrests.” Pinter hopes the Coalition would “take some kind of legal action and create awareness in our community that these arrests are happening.”
It wasn’t long before Pinter’s activism, combined with Osborne’s journalism, got Gotham’s queer community to stand up and take notice. New York’s LGBT Center joined forces with the City’s Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence (AVP) to host a Town Hall Meeting at the Center on January 15. A crowd of over 300 heard statements by Pinter, Osborne, the AVP’s Jennifer Ramirez, Joey Nelson of the Queer Justice League, and Sienna Basin and Andrea Ritchie of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center. According to activist Jim Eigo, who was present, the crowd “was fired up and angry that a full generation after Stonewall and a few years after the striking down of sodomy laws in the US we still had to contend with the interference of NY law enforcement with our basic sexual rights.” Eigo, Pinter and other activists hope that the Town Hall Meeting was just the beginning of a new era of queer activism that at least would put a stop to the NYPD’s arrests and harassment of gay or bisexual men. On Valentine’s Day Pinter, Bill Dobbs and other activists picketed outside Mayor Bloomberg’s home, demanding that the mayor put a stop to the whole sorry business.
For too long, the GLBT community has been passive, thinking that our rights would be given to us on a silver plate. The passage of Proposition 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida led to a wave of community activism unheard of since the days of ACT-UP and Queer Nation. But there is more to the GLBT movement than the legal rights of same-sex couples. The recent wave of arrests and entrapment of queer men in New York reminds us that for all that we do to be “just like them,” we will continue to be persecuted because we are, in fact, different. Even the established gay media failed to do its job, and it took Osborne and the Gay City News to tell us what we should have known all along. And antigay police entrapment is not limited to New York City. Over five years after the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, GLBT communities everywhere must continue to fight any and all attempts to “recriminalize” homosexuality.