Friday Forum: Are Undercover Sex Shop Stings Homophobic?

It’s that time of the week, when Queerty takes a break from the opinion-making and puts you, the readers, in charge. Each Friday, we invite you to be the pundit on a hot-button question facing the LGBT community and its allies. As always, we expect people to be respectful and considerate of others by refraining from personal attacks. We present the information, you make the decision.

chelsea_blue_storeThis weekend, protesters in New York City plan to demonstrate outside Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s residence to draw attention to a series of undercover stings targeting older gay men at sex shops and video stores. The demonstration, planned by the groups Coalition to Stop the Arrests and the Gay Justic League plan to rally at 17 East 79th Street Saturday from Noon to 1 PM. In a statement, the organizers made their case, saying:

“Scores of innocent men have been swept up in these false arrests, documented in the Gay City News. Young undercover cops go up to middle-aged gay men, cruise them, ask for consensual sex, and then offer to pay the older men to have sex with them. Though none of the men agree to the offer, they are then arrested by a gang of undercover cops and put through the system. None of the men have prior arrests. And while only 17% of male prostitutes arrested in NYPD’s Manhattan South district are over 40 years old, 66% of the men arrested at the Blue Door video store are. The legitimacy of these arrests is inconceivable. It also casts doubt on arrests at other targeted stores.

These false arrests have been condemned by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Member Rosie Mendez and State Senator Tom Duane. Mayor Bloomberg must put a stop to these arrests now and bring the rogue cops engaging in these crimes to justice.

1. MAYOR BLOOMBERG – Stop the false arrests of gay men for prostitution!
2. GOVERNOR PATERSON – Appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and punish these crimes by the police!
3. MAYOR BLOOMBERG, D.A. MORGENTHAU and POLICE COMMISSIONER KELLY – Sit down with gay groups, leaders and victims of these illegal stings, to get to the bottom of this outrage, and stop the arrests and prosecutions –NOW!”

Paul Browne, the department’s deputy commissioner for public information, previously defended the arrests saying, “The fact remains that the locations had become notorious for solicitation of sex acts, with complaints from the public resulting in police attention.”

Of course, gay men being targeted in sex stings are nothing new. Gay bars were regularly raided in the pre-Stonewall era and modern-day police have gone onto online sex sites to capture those soliciting for sex and those offering it. Senator Larry Craig was arrested in a sex sting set up at the Minneapolis airport.

Drop for a moment the issue of whether prostitution should be legal or not and consider this question: Should police officers go after gay sex workers at all? Is there a line to be drawn—and if so, where should it be? The NYPD maintains it only arrested men who did not walk away once the undercover cops offered money for sex, but then again, most of the arrested men maintain that they were bewildered by the offer and did not understand why, you know, a young guy was offering them money for sex.

We put it to you: Are undercover sex shop stings homophobic?