Fort Lauderdale mayor James Naugle may have just picked up some friends, and boy does he need them now. The embattled mayor has been in the doghouse for trying to get $250,000 automatically opening public bathrooms installed to prevent a whole lot of imaginary public gay sex and says he won't use the word "gay" because homosexuals aren't happy, and he's come under some fire for those comments.
Well, a new coalition appeared with him yesterday as he tried to make this out to be a health crisis, citing statistics that 74% of new HIV infections in Broward County are caused by sex between men. The coalition, called one of those names that shows that all the horrible things you would think about them are true, Healthy Public Places, is made up of a bunch of fringe fundie groups, including Stephen Bennett Ministries, Matt Barber's Concerned Women of America, Peter LaBarbera's Americans for truth, but not the big-time fundamentalist groups Focus on the Family or the American Family Association.
So the message is focused again on arbitrary and heteropatriarchal sexual morality standards, but now with a strong focus on public space ownership and public health window dressing! The basic argument that the group is making, that HIV is being spread mainly through gay public sex and the only way to stop it is with more arrests, is pretty faulty on several levels, so faulty that one would have to conclude that these people have no concern with anyone's health.
First, they assume that there's a whole bunch of public sex going on, which, according to the Fort Lauderdale police, isn't. Second, it really makes no sense to say that public sex spreads HIV faster than private sex, as if barebacking in someone's bedroom is somehow less dangerous than doing it in the woods (The Sun-Sentinel points out: "Though the health department has no statistics concerning how many cases of HIV are contracted via sex in public bathrooms or parks, Naugle has tied the two issues together"). Third, throwing people in jail, which I'm guessing is what's supposed to happen when the toilet doors fly open, would probably increase HIV infection as many people get HIV while in prison. Fourth, actual, proven means of stopping the spread of HIV, like safer-sex education, reducing homophobia and shame around sex, and discussions of negotiated sexual risk, are opposed by groups such as those that signed on to this coalition.
So every time they say "health", we can just roll our eyes and look for the real thing their after: the elimination from the public sphere of all sexual diversity and all signs of homosexuality. Because by doing that in a very gay city, they can show us who's in charge, and that, of course, is the ultimate goal of homophobia.
The Sun-Sentinel captures this in their headline on the story: "Mayor Naugle, other speakers attack gay sex", because there's no two ways around this one.
Especially considering that their group's name is "Healthy Public Places", implying that current public places in Fort Lauderdale are somehow unhealthy. Is it the two men holding hands there that drive these people insane? Or is it the possibility that two women will kiss in public that makes their public places so unhealthy? It's hard to tell what specifically bothers them because they lie so much, so it's easy to guess that they hate the fact that non-normative sexuality exists at all.
But when it comes to the material issue of HIV prevention, a local Campaign to End AIDS activist got right to it and shouted during the conference:
He should be serving the people. He should be standing up for people. He should be fighting for funds for housing, for substance abuse, for vocational training. Who the hell do you people think you are?
This man has brought such disgrace to the Fort Lauderdale community and the worldwide AIDS community.