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Cruising For Trouble 

Men cruising for men cause problems for neighbors, police and the outed gay community

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That's certainly true in Mecklenburg County, where it's technically not illegal to have sex in a park. County statutes governing parks forbid undressing on park property except in tents and bathhouses. They also forbid willful exposure of buttocks or genitals to another person in the park. According to state statute, it is illegal to solicit someone for sex or crimes against nature. To actually commit crimes against nature " basically anything other than heterosexual intercourse -- is a felony.

The police say that forces them to use solicitation and crime-against-nature laws to nab cruisers.

"The only law the police have to deal with it is a stupid law that wasn't meant for this purpose," said Boddie. "If the legislature would repeal this old, archaic law and replace it with something that dealt with public sexual acts, the police would not have to go through all this. But our legislature doesn't want to deal with sex."

It may be years before the legislature addresses the law. Ian Palmquist, the assistant director of Equality North Carolina, says repeated attempts to strike down the law through the legislature, of which there are several every year, have died in committee. And Charlotte attorney Connie Vetter says that finding a test case to take through the courts won't be as easy as it sounds.

"To get to the Supreme Court you have to be willing to lose one round and be convicted," said Vetter. "You need to find a plaintiff, and the right plaintiff."

Given the solitary nature of cruising, none have stepped forward so far. That leaves District Attorney Peter Gilchrist's office to deal with a few hundred solicitation cases each year, some of which stem from cruising.

"We have had lots of problems with bathrooms in public parks and rest stops on the interstates," said Gilchrist. "I feel sorry for people who live near these places and I wish they weren't affected."

Most of the time, men who cruise for other men wind up being charged with misdemeanor solicitation. Gilchrist says that a cruising arrest could result in felony charges if the plaintiff is caught in the act of committing a crime against nature, but if it is a first offense, the person will usually be allowed to plead to a misdemeanor or be given deferred prosecution, a kind of probationary period in which no prosecution will occur unless the individual is later charged with separate crimes.

Most of the time, Gilchrist says, those convicted of cruising-related crimes wind up doing community service as part of their punishments. More devastating than that, though, is the fact that they often wind up being ordered by the courts to inform their spouses that they have been convicted. In some cases where these men have what Gilchrist calls "sensitive jobs," like teaching or directing a church choir, they are ordered to tell their employer about the conviction as part of their punishment and are barred from returning to the spot where they were caught, particularly if it is a popular cruising locale.

"You would have to have been arrested and convicted a number of times before you were sent to jail," said Gilchrist.

Part of the humiliation tied to these kinds of arrests is that the cases are read and heard in open court, essentially in traffic and misdemeanor courtrooms, which are typically packed.

"The sad thing is the embarrassment that comes from the arrest," said Gilchrist. "I get calls occasionally from someone who may be prominent in the community and is absolutely humiliated. I tell him to come to court and apply for deferred prosecution. Just warn people of the potential embarrassment they have subjected themselves to." *

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