Schenley Park sting

I worked my way through college as a security guard at a drive-in theater. My job was to catch ticket-dodgers as they emerged from their trunks, give jump starts to movie watchers who’d left their windshield wipers on too long, and to knock on fogged-up car windows to alert sleeping naked or “in the saddle” patrons that the movie was over and it was time to go home.

There are lots of stories from my drive-in days. The stories are great at parties, and they always elicit tittering personal tales of public indiscretion from my listeners, about their trysts in parks, bars and clubs, beaches, “lovers’ lanes,” in “mile-high” planes or even in church.

The police never conducted a sting operation at the drive-in, nor does it seem they regularly harass people who discretely engage in the occasional public adventure at any of those heterosexual venues.

But, the brave undercover forces of the Pittsburgh Police are a different breed. Perhaps drunk with success at having liberated Homewood from the scourge of teenage viola playing—they have resumed their perennial harassment of the sissies in Schenley Park.

The “fruit loop” used to be a revered social gathering spot for gay people in the city. Summer Sundays were once marked by pickup volleyball games and pot luck cookouts. But police harassment has ended all that; they’ve killed the sense of community that once existed there. And yes, there is sex in the woods. Deep in the woods far out of the public eye practiced by skittish men who often have no place else to go. It’s no different than the drive-in, and it’s certainly not a brazen threat to “public safety.”

The current police sting would have been an utter failure had the “bait” not been well-muscled young undercover cops going into the woods to entrap their victims. A uniformed patrol, or an undercover female officer with a baby stroller (or the casual visitor to the park) wouldn’t see a thing going on. The men in the park are generally respectful and aware, and they seek nothing more than an isolated spot on a dead-end street where they can privately enjoy a little fiddle playing.

For some reason, the Pittsburgh Undercover Squads, in Homewood and in Schenley Park, have a problem with harmless fiddling. Maybe we’re just fresh out of real criminals they can pursue, maybe that pursuit requires real police work or maybe it requires some courage.

Other Pittsburghers have sex in public venues and don’t get arrested. Consider the case of Ben Roethlisberger, who admittedly had sex (albeit unconsummated) in a restroom in a public establishment. Policemen from our area stood by and tacitly endorsed the activity (apparently, they actually guarded the bathroom door to facilitate the act). Afterwards, the law concerned itself only with whether or not Ben’s actions constituted rape. What privilege protected Big Ben from a lewd conduct arrest? Was it his wealth, his race or his heterosexuality? For the answer, we need look only to some other rich, white men who were arrested and convicted for as little as tapping their feet, like Senator Larry “the hypocrite” Craig, Pee Wee Herman or George Michael.

Public sex is a difficult thing to defend. But until I read about a Saturday night police sting at 1:30am to catch heterosexual trysts in the parking lot of popular downtown club—I’ll continue to believe this is selective and discriminatory enforcement of the law specifically designed to harass a minority group.

Oh, and which one section of the park did city officials use as a dumping ground for truckloads of filthy snow and trash during this year’s blizzard? You guessed it.