It's a gay tourist mecca. Cute guys in sexy tank tops cruise the boulevard, looking at other men's crotches, grabbing their own packages, and saying, "Show me what you've got." If a man expresses interest but wants to go somewhere private, the answer is no: "Show me what you've got."
The men doing this crude cruising are heterosexual police in idyllic Palm Springs, California, where up to 30 to 40 percent of the population and the majority of tourist dollars are gay. Two dozen men entrapped in this sting last summer now face lifelong penalties under mandatory sex offender registration laws.
Before the sting began, local police allegedly negotiated a deal with the District Attorney's Office of Riverside County that men would be arrested on misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct and indecent exposure (penal code sections 647(a) and 314), which require lifelong sex offender registration under the state's Penal Code section 290(c), and would not be allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges not requiring registration.
In court documents, the men claim their prosecutions are discriminatory, because police ignore similar conduct by heterosexuals. A security guard at a water park catering to families with children said she observed 10 to 15 incidents of public sex between heterosexual couples at the park, yet no arrests were made; another security guard made similar observations at a downtown parking structure. And a review of all public defender cases over a 10-year period found not a single case of a heterosexual being prosecuted for having sex in public, said Roger Tansey, a defense attorney representing five of the men. Defense documents also accuse Palm Springs police of giving preferential treatment to soldiers, allowing Marines to escape arrests for public drunkenness, fighting, and battery upon girlfriends.
"Heterosexuals in Palm Springs are free to engage in lewd conduct, expose their private parts, perform fellatio and cunnilingus, or enjoy sexual intercourse naked in public without fear -- Palm Springs Police Department undertakes no stings to discourage this behavior, nor has it ever arrested them," alleges a defense document.
A report on the controversy by Emmy Award-winning reporter Hank Plante, a Palm Springs resident, in today's San Francisco Chronicle is HERE. News accounts by Ken Nelson, Editor in Chief of San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, and by El Walsh of the Bay Area Reporter are HERE and HERE.