Alex Blaze

Learning not to share: Feeding homeless people bothers the family values crowd

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 08, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: cruising for sex, LGBT homeless, Ohio, parks, sex, ugly behavior

I post often enough here about gay sex stings in parks, so much so that I've gotten accused of being a bathroom-trolling queer (which is funny, because my sex life is boring and the most public sex I've ever had was with only one curtain covering the window, not two). To me, it's not about the sex in the park, but about what motivates those stings: white, often Christian, straight, middle-class conservatives' need for the entire world to be cleaned up and purified to make them comfortable.

office_table.jpgI grew up in a town populated by tea-baggers. These people were my teachers and neighbors and friends' parents. I know them, and their goal is to make everyone submit to their values. The fact that these public sex stings regularly violate people's due process rights, are never directed at straight sex, and often arrest innocent people shows that they're not about promoting justice or safety in any meaningful sense of those terms. Rather, they're about power and pleasing one group of people at the expense of everyone else.

These people decided in the past several decades that a gated community was no longer enough, that they had a right to not see undesirables anywhere. And while lots of people reading this are saying that public sex is over the line, when police are arresting men for even talking about having sex the issue isn't the public nature of the sex but the people who are doing it.

Digby is rightfully indignant by these people's ugly goal, but it's really no surprise that this decision is about public park usage. Parks are for decent, well-paid families, not the trash like queers and homeless people:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that it's OK for Orlando to restrict the group feedings that have brought dozens of homeless people to Lake Eola Park.

In a case watched by cities and homeless advocates across the country, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed a 2008 ruling by a federal judge in Orlando who believed the city's rules were unconstitutional.

"We won on every single point. It's a complete vindication for the city," said City Attorney Mayanne Downs. "The point here was to protect Lake Eola Park. It's a very important part of our city's heritage and history, and all we wanted to do was to protect it from an unfair burden."[...]

"Over 100 people have been gathering at the park every day, and it's really becoming a problem," said Commissioner Patty Sheehan, whose district includes the iconic downtown park. "It's gotten to the point where people are telling me they are no longer going to take their families to the park anymore."

Yes, it's really so terrible that homeless people are fed in a park once a week that people can't go anymore at all. It's obviously the homeless people's fault. Jeez, why can't they just go to Applebee's or something?

Notice, though, how Sheehan doesn't say that people aren't going anymore, but that they can't "take their families" anymore. The cleaning-up of public spaces is particularly intense when it comes to children. And it isn't that a child's growth will be stunted if she looks at a homeless person, but that people's reaction to homeless people, much like their reaction to gay men, is based on disgust, and disgust is a reaction to a violation of purity standards and children are supposed to be the purest people among us.

Moreover, since the group handed out food at the same time each week for five years (it's hard to reach people who don't have phones or internet access if you switch around the times), anyone could have stayed home if they wanted to. I helped with a Food Not Bombs give-away a few years ago; it was quiet and dignified and about getting food out of the trash and into people's hands. It didn't disturb the park for anyone else.

It reminds me of Amsterdam's plan to set up a section of a public park for gay sex and put up signs to warn people. While it could never be replicated in the US, it really does solve the "I don't want to see that" problem. Except the real issue is control of public space and protecting that space from actions and people that cause disgust.

It really is that insane of logic, and I don't see much difference between that and this:

These arrests come as park lovers are trying to revitalize the area and keep it a family-friendly park. Most people know the most notorious meeting areas for sexual activity, and avoid them, but not a single one of the 756 acres in this "jewel of Brockton" should be off-limits to family activity.

If that doesn't make these folks' motivation clear, I don't know what will. It's not about keeping sex away from the children, reducing petty crime, stopping unsafe sex, keeping child molesters away from the park, or whatever other excuse gets thrown out there to justify ruining people's lives by railroading them through the criminal justice system, getting them on sex offender registries, and outing them to the entire community. It's about making sure the rest of us know who's in charge.

And, for the record, I'm not advocating letting any sex occur in public parks whenever people want to do it, but to treat the issue as one of generally harmless men looking for love in all the wrong places. Most of them have sex there because they don't have an alternative, either because they're married, living in cramped conditions, living with their parents, or homeless themselves. They're not child molesters or violent criminals, so we should give them a break and come up with a reasonable compromise that works for everyone.

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Well said and insightful. Thanks.

So the problem is:

A - A hundred people overrunning the park every day (Used too much), and

B - People don't feel safe and are avoiding the park (Used too little)

Doesn't that seem a little bit contradictory? If you're worried that people aren't using the park, um, what about the hundred there every day. Apparently they don't have families so they don't deserve to use the park.

Parks are meant to be a public good and used by the public. This is clearly not a case of preserving the park, but -- as you point out -- preserving the park for the "right" people.

gregorybrown | July 9, 2010 12:39 PM

I think a reasonable solution to the problems caused by poor and homeless people is simple and ought to be taken up by one or other of the current crop of Defenders of the American Family. Round them up, clean them up, provide necessary medical care for any communicable conditions--then put them in discreet but accessible brothels. Age and gender are irrelevant: there's a market for everything. These establishments could charge locally determined access fees for paying customers, with revenue going to reduce taxes for Decent People. Since the overall goal of so much of the community is to F*** the Poor, it might as well be channeled to something that would provide work, food and housing in a self sustaining way, as well as sexual outlets for those whose lives are otherwise so boring that they divide time between listening to Fox "punditry" and parroting it.

If it was three people once a month, someone would complain. An encampment could put too much pressure on the land, but the solution isn't turning homeless people away.