Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Increasingly, Gay Men Busted for Prostitution in NYC

New York Times: On an October evening last year, Robert Pinter walked into the adults-only section of an East Village video store. Within minutes, he was approached by a young, handsome stranger.
“He was very charming and cute, and we agreed to leave the store and engage in consensual sex,” said Mr. Pinter, a 53-year-old massage therapist. But on the way out, he said, the man offered Mr. Pinter $50. Mr. Pinter, who is gay, said he found it odd for a younger man to want to pay him for sex.

“Then I got this weird feeling and thought if he continues to offer me money I am going to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ ” he said.

Outside, Mr. Pinter said, he was put against a chain-link fence by undercover police officers and handcuffed. As he was being led to a van, he was told he was being arrested for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.”

The arrest of Mr. Pinter, whose narrative differs from the police account, and more than two dozen similar arrests in more than a year have touched a nerve among many gay New Yorkers and raised the concerns of some elected officials.

A recent editorial in Gay City News said the city’s actions were reminiscent of the era of the Stonewall Inn, which was frequented by gay men. A police raid at the bar in 1969 led to protests that are now considered the beginnings of the organized gay and lesbian rights movement in New York City.

“Forty years later, the N.Y.P.D. is still targeting gay men and places we gather,” said William K. Dobbs, an advocate for gay rights. Some of the arrests have been used by the city as evidence in “nuisance abatement” lawsuits, a tactic used for many years to try to shut down businesses where unlawful behavior is taking place. The chief police spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said that the police were not singling out gay men but merely responding to complaints about illegal activities.

In 2008, Mr. Browne said, the city obtained 900 nuisance abatement closings or “stipulations,” settlements in which a business agrees to change its practices.

Many of those cases involved under-age drinking, drug dealing and gambling in clubs. Though the police have been criticized for targeting gay-themed video stores, only 3 of the 100 nuisance cases that involved prostitution last year were at such businesses, Mr. Browne said.
“The impression is being put out there that it is all concentrated on gay Manhattan,” Mr. Browne said. “That is just not true.”

At least 34 men were arrested in 2008 and early 2009 in those types of police operations in sex-themed businesses, according to Mr. Pinter, who started a group called Coalition to Stop the Arrests. Mr. Browne said he could not immediately confirm that figure, but said that there were 1,650 female and 233 male prostitution arrests citywide in 2008.

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