UK Cops Ticket Gay Men Cruising in Park... Because, COVID

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday December 24, 2020

British police are ticketing gay men who are cruising in a London park called Hampstead Heath, which has long been a place for such activity. But it's not men seeking sex that has authorities worried: It's the breaking of COVID-19 rules and the possibility that the men are contributing to the pandemic.

To that end, LGBTQ equality advocacy group the Peter Tatchell Foundation advised in a press release, the police contacted the organization for tips on how to handle the situation.

Tatchell spoke about the issue in comments that were included in the release, saying, "We are urging gay and bisexual men to 'play safe': have fun but protect yourself and your partners by following the COVID lockdown rules.

"We also advise against having sex in circumstances where you might be seen by members of the public and cause them offense."

Added Tatchell: "We don't want to see gay and bisexual men breaking the rules, putting themselves and others at risk and getting fined."

Police began issuing "fixed penalty notices" - essentially, ticketing - men after complaints from the public about cruising happening in the park. Tatchell spoke to this point as well, saying, "The police have made it clear to us that they do not proactively patrol the Heath but only act in response to public complaints. Moreover, officers said they have no interest in intervening to penalize sexual behavior in the middle of night where it is not visible to members of the public and causes no offense.

"Their main concern is group sexual activity that risks spreading COVID and endangering public health," Tatchell went on to say.

The Tatchell Foundation said it had advised the police to "Alert the LGBT+ media" as to the fact that police were responding to cruising public spaces, "stressing that this is to protect their health and the health of the wider public," as well as putting up notices in the park itself because, the Foundation noted, "many men using the Heath may be closeted and isolated from the LGBT+ community, not members of LGBT+ groups and not readers of the LGBT+ media."

The Foundation also advised that police only penalize individuals with tickets after first issuing verbal warnings.

The issue of COVID safety, sexuality, and policing has come up in the LGBTQ community prior to this. In New York City last month, police raided a sex party at a swingers club that was reportedly attended by 80 people despite COVID restrictions.

Reports at the time noted that the attendees "were not wearing masks — or much else" and "engaging in various sex acts at less than six feet apart."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.