One of the things that had to go when the City of Chicago decided it was time for the gentrification of Uptown to proceed full-speed was the man-on-man sex that has brought men together from across race and class lines for decades in the tall grasses along the North lakefront.
The City first went about this business by trying to shame us publicly with the charge that so-called public sex is a threat to the environment–a true innovation in homophobia. In a front-page story back in the summer of 2000, Chicago Free Press uncritically conveyed the Chicago Park District claim that men having sex in the grass near Montrose Point “imperil” migratory birds. The paper went on to quote without question this Park District official’s opinion that there is something psycho-socially wrong with men who have sex in the grass, and that “good looking guys” really belong inside a bar on Halsted Street!
Accompanying this story was an editorial about “sexual irresponsibility” that conflated public sex with barebacking, declared sex at Montrose Point a public relations disaster for the gay community, and scolded that we should clean up our own house or the Park District would need to call in the real police and start arresting people. (How astonishing that a gay paper would casually condemn “public sex” while same-sex couples are routinely criticized and physically attacked for the simple acts of holding hands or kissing in public. At the same time, gay men are condemned for using bath houses and sex clubs, which still get raided on the grounds of “public indecency.” The Free Press condemnation of “public sex” was all the more egregious given that in 2000, the Supreme Court’s Bowers v. Hardwick ruling still stood, stating that the “privacy rights” enjoyed by practitioners of opposite-sex sex did not apply to the practitioners of same-sex sex. By definition, all same-sex sex was “public” and open to regulation. The ruling was overturned only last year, sparking a major Christian Right backlash against “liberal judges” that continues to the present battle over the seating of Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement on the Court.)
The Park District spokesman quoted in the article presented no evidence of environmental damage, and no evidence that he knew anything at all about the men about whom he casually cast judgment. Of course, if you want to talk facts, thousands of acres of wetlands have been destroyed in Illinois over the last decade because of suburban sprawl, a process that is only accelerating. So how do a few patches of matted grass figure in to the larger scheme of things, assuming the unsubstantiated claim that matted grass is a genuine problem for the birds, and, assuming that the environment is really what we are talking about here? As usual, creating and then hunting down “perverts” is easier than going after the real culprits of any real problem, in this case suburban land “developers.”
But the “real problem” in the first place here is that City authorities simply don’t like man-on-man sex and the class and race heterogeneity it produces when it wants to gentrify the adjoining Uptown neighborhood–serving urban land “developers.”
Failing to heed the Park District or the Free Press, men have continued to find pleasure in the tall grasses of Montrose Point, leading the Chicago Police Department to create an eight-officer task force to try to put a stop to it all, leading to over 70 arrests last summer alone for “public indecency.”
But what exactly is “public sex”? The men using the bird sanctuary are using it precisely because the tall grass provides privacy. They are engaged in consensual sex that is causing no harm to others–certainly not to humans. Until actual evidence is presented that they are harming birds, and until the state goes after real estate developers for their destruction of natural habitat, the Park District, the Police Department, and the Free Press should be celebrating, not condemning, gay sex under the stars.
Jeff Edwards is a member of Queer to the Left, a Chicago-based collective committed to creating economic, gender, racial, and sexual justice. Q2L’s most sustained work has focused on fighting gentrification and the death penalty.