The Verdict: Outrage at Craig AND Cops for Bathroom Sting
Larry Craig has found himself among strange bedfellows, and not just in the bathroom stall.
When the senator’s sex scandal broke, the LGBT community joined a chorus of others in blasting him for his apparent hypocrisy and willingness to lead a double life. But as more and more sordid details came to the fore, many activists reluctantly came to his defense, squaring their indignation with broader concerns over the proper role of law enforcement and nuances of bathroom sex lingo.
Craig (R-Idaho), a staunch social conservative known for his anti-gay track record, was arrested in June after allegedly trying to solicit sex from an undercover police officer investigating complaints of lewd conduct in Minneapolis airport restroom. Craig initially pleaded guilty to the charge-"in the hopes of making it go away", he later said-but then quickly recanted. On August 30th, he called a press conference to deny any wrongdoing, and said "I am not gay" no less than three times. Days later he announced his resignation from the senate, effective September 30th, claiming that the scandal proved to be too much of a distraction from his legislative duties.
But once the audio of the senator’s bumbling arrest interview began making rounds of the news media, some began to detect a whiff of entrapment about the case.
"Why are Minneapolis tax dollars being used to have plainclothes police officers lurking idly in airport restroom stalls?" asked the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman in a press release. The Task Force was just one of many groups to launch an attack on both Craig and the Minneapolis police force.
"For the past fifty years, gay activists have protested men being prosecuted for making contact with other men with whom they want to have sex," said Sue Hyde, a spokesperson for the organization. "Craig wasn’t charged with having sex with anyone in public, he was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly trying to solicit a man in a sting operation...Gay advocacy groups are right to question whether the police are persecuting and prosecuting men for their desires and not their actions."
The fact that Craig had been charged with disorderly conduct for a few moments of rousing foot-play also drew the ire of some activists and like-minded media analysts.
"Craig didn’t disturb anyone, made very subtle signs, and only...in response to a positive signal," said Slate editor David Plotz in an impromptu online debate with his fellow editors. "If they want to stop disturbing and disorderly conduct, they need to find more disorder than this."
Others in the debate echoed the notion that public propositions shouldn’t necessarily be a crime, while some even called the meaning of Craig’s supposed advances into question.
"Is moving your foot up and down a signal of encouragement?" asked editor Will Saletan. "Somebody must have a web site that explains the code."
Since the story broke, however, several experts have gone on record to explain that, for those in the know, there was indeed no ambiguity about what Craig was attempting to do.
"All of the gestures that been chronicled in the police report-the foot-tapping, the movement of the foot, the gesturing of the hand under the bathroom stall-these have all been reported to used to signal public sex between men for decades," said American University anthropology professor William Leap, who has researched male public sex for over ten years. "It’s not only the gestures that match, but the exact sequence."
Leap also said that, had Craig’s encounter been more effective, it could have very likely led to a public sexual encounter within the bathroom stall, which would have landed the senator a more serious charge, though he admits that this is highly speculative.
"We can infer that, if he was between planes and had a very limited time-frame, that he might have been looking to make something happen in the context of the bathroom," he said. "But it’s an just inference. We can also infer that, in that limited time frame, maybe he wasn’t intending to do anything publicly."
Nevertheless, he sees police action in these situations as justified, as men often complain that they often feel harassed and intimidated by the presence of gay cruisers in restrooms and other areas. He is quick to point out, however, that, in the interest of general public safety, law enforcement officials would do well to keep their priorities in order.
"In my home city of Washington D.C., there are a lot of areas where gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer people can’t walk the streets safely," he said. "I think the police protecting these people, and making sure they can walk the street without being harassed or beat up should be top priority. I can understand that there are people in restrooms who feel put upon by persons trying to cruise them, but there are a lot of other serious safety issues that the police are not addressing. They keep telling us, ’We don’t have the staff.’ Well, get them the fuck out of the bathrooms!"