Student’s arrest highlights ongoing illicit acts

A Web site lists West Bank restrooms as places for men to find same-sex partners.

by Josh Linehan

A University student was arrested and ticketed for indecent conduct Thursday following a complaint of people engaging in sexual activity in a Willey Hall bathroom.

Uniformed officers who responded to the complaint found no one in the restroom nearest the bus stop, but a plainclothes officer who followed did and arrested the University student, University Police Capt. Steve Johnson said.

In addition, University police on Monday issued a trespass citation to a man who allegedly exposed himself to another man in an Anderson Hall bathroom.

Though they often remain below the surface, these incidents illustrate a long-term practice at the University of men “cruising” bathrooms for same-sex activity.

The Web site, for example, lists West Bank restrooms in Wilson Library, Blegen Hall and Anderson Hall as places for men to find same-sex partners.

The Willey Hall bathroom where Thursday’s incident occurred is also listed with comments.

A University source said West Bank bathrooms have historically been a meeting place for same-sex encounters. The area’s proximity to downtown and the high possibility of meeting men looking for the same activity were cited as reasons.

In addition, the source said, an estimated 50 percent to 60 percent of the men who use those restrooms for sex do not identify themselves as gay.

Sources said the University’s “cruising” tradition dates back more than 50 years, and the issue has more recently come to the forefront at colleges around the country.

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education report addressed “cruising” as both a political issue and a law enforcement question.

Public sex between heterosexuals is often accepted on college campuses and not reported by the public, Chronicle sources said.

The report also quoted Beth Zemsky, former director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office at the University, who said the GLBT office attempted to tackle the problem as a public safety issue by stressing to men that “cruising” is unsafe.

An “uptick” in cruising activity led to increased visibility and complaints in the mid 1990s, Zemsky told the Chronicle. The plan, she said, was to educate police officers and the University community without resorting to undercover police stings.

Police at Boston University decided to conduct undercover stings this year after viewing the “cruising” Web site. They eventually arrested approximately 50 men, according to the report.

Johnson confirmed his officers have made similar arrests in the Willey Hall bathroom through the years, but declined to say how many. He also said that if the police department was receiving complaints, “cruising” activity had likely increased.

Johnson said the indecent conduct ticket was a misdemeanor on a first offense but could be punished more severely on subsequent offenses. He also said that to make an arrest, the officer on the scene must witness the offense.

Johnson said he was aware of the activity but had mixed feelings about it receiving too much attention. Media coverage of “cruising” could cause a reduction in the activity, he said, but it could also give rise to a homophobic backlash.

Sources said such an assault occurred in the same Willey Hall bathroom during the 1995-96 school year, when a gay man who was not cruising for sex was raped after declining an offer for sex.

The “cruising” Web site allows participants to post warnings about dangerous places as well as places where undercover police might conduct stings.

One posting regarding the Willey Hall bathroom reads “Ö Make sure no one is by the sink area once the door closes. Cops use that trick a lot.”

Graphic comments are posted on the site regarding restrooms in the Willey and Anderson Hall bathrooms, some as recent as January 2003.

Most of the men “cruising” University restrooms for sex would not identify themselves as gay, sources said, and see anonymous activity as an outlet. The clandestine nature of sex in bathrooms then nurtures subcultures such as the “cruising” Web site.

Another posting regarding Willey Hall from April 2002 reads, “I was there last week and saw at least five guys cruising in thirty minutes time. I’m going back soon.”