5 Absurd (And Horrifying) Anti-Homosexual Sting Operations
Sex between men was a felony everywhere in the USA up until 1962, and if that sounds like ancient history to you, keep in mind that some states kept anti-sodomy laws on the books until the year Finding Nemo came out. In their quest to enforce these laws, authorities put together all kinds of sting operations that helped no one, sometimes backfired, and would have been hilarious if they weren't so ugly. For instance ...
Cops Stuck Hidden Cameras In A Men's Room (And Made A Movie Out Of It)
In 1962, the police in Mansfield, Ohio knew they had a public safety scourge on their hands. A man had recently killed two ten-year-old girls for refusing to give him oral sex, and he'd previously received oral sex in a men's room, so authorities logically decided they had to crack down on that second thing. Clearly the only way to do that was to secretly monitor every man who used a particular public restroom, in hopes of finding someone having sex outside of the way God intended. And of course, they needed to get this all on film.
Hiding a camera in a bathroom was a tricky prospect with '60s technology. They couldn't stick a CCTV camera in there, or simply slide an iPhone in a soap dispenser like you or I would do. Instead they constructed a tight compartment behind a two-way mirror, where an officer hid with a 16mm camera for hours at a time.
He watched all the men who entered go about their business, and whenever that business turned sexual, he filmed the whole thing. They made 79 arrests using this footage. Several of the accused were committed to an asylum for shock treatment. One of them later committed suicide.
If there was any severe legal objection to how the evidence had been obtained, it didn't sway the courts. And with the footage having proved so successful, the police decided to put it to further use. They incorporated it into an instructional video called Camera Surveillance to teach other police forces how to conduct stings of their own. It's unclear why such a video had to feature uncensored recordings of actual sex acts, but it absolutely did.
A guy involved in making that video later gave the original footage to artist William Jones, who made it into his own movie, called Tearoom, which is freely available on the internet (usually on porn sites). Meanwhile, that public restroom was ordered closed after the investigation, so the citizens of Mansfield could finally feel safe in their homes.
Police Peeped On A White House Aide Having Sex
During Lyndon B. Johnson's first term as president, one of his top aides was a closeted man named Walter Jenkins, who'd worked with him for 25 years. One evening in October 1964, only weeks before Election Day, Jenkins and another guy hooked up in the men's room of a D.C. YMCA (those places had a reputation long before the Village People came around). Unfortunately for both men, officers caught them in the act.
That's because, you guessed it, two cops were watching through a peephole they'd drilled for this express purpose. A third officer was there as well, having set up a stool and perched on top so he could peer in on them (the manpower overkill here may explain why those cops in Ohio went ahead and brought a camera along). The trio arrested Jenkins, who received a fine but tried to keep his connection to the White House secret.
In time, however, the press realized who Jenkins was and reached out to the White House for comment. Jenkins had to resign, of course. This was 1964. Tapes released decades later revealed that LBJ and Lady Bird argued over the matter, with Lady Bird wanting to offer Jenkins a job afterward, and then she gave a statement to the press supporting him against LBJ's wishes. LBJ also claimed on these tapes that Republican operatives had lured Jenkins to the YMCA and into the police trap.
The GOP did exploit the scandal (though Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee, didn't touch it at all). Some of their slogans celebrating the incident included "LBJ -- Light Bulb Jenkins: No wonder he turned the lights out," the slightly more catchy "Either Way with LBJ," and the rather rhythmic "All the way with LBJ, but don't go near the YMCA!" In the end, LBJ still won the election easily. The week after Jenkins was arrested, Nikita Khrushchev was deposed and China set off a nuke, so it's possible voters had more to think about than two dudes doing it in a bathroom stall.
A Gay Apartment Raid Fails Because "Fellatio" Is Not An English Word
In 1918, the military got word that someone on San Francisco's Baker Street was impersonating an Army officer. Then when they interrogated him, he told them something far more serious: Men regularly came to an apartment block on that street (known as the Baker Street Club) to have sex ... with other men! The military could not let San Francisco's fine reputation be sullied by such unholy perversion, and since they had no jurisdiction to act, they passed the matter to the city police. The city then investigated by infiltrating the Baker Street Club, sending in a cop disguised as a cook.
After some time observing, Officer Cook confirmed that the block was super gay. So police swarmed the place and pressed a ten-day siege. As residents and visitors entered, police took them into custody by locking them into the two buildings' rooms, as they had appropriated the entire block as a jail.
Imprisoned, the residents signed confessions laying out all the gay activities in which they'd been participating. But police also made them hand over their address books and list names of all their friends. This way, they reasoned, they'd be able to track down every single degenerate and stamp out the homosexual menace altogether. And the plan worked for a little while, turning up a whole lot of new names, including those of both of the beat cops who had been assigned to that area. But it also produced the names of some "prominent citizens" whom superiors said weren't to be messed with, and that spelled the end of the investigation.
Of the men who were arrested, plenty had their lives ruined -- some were jailed, some were fired, and two of them attempted suicide -- which was pretty typical for people rounded up in these sort of raids. But some of them appealed their convictions up to the state supreme court, which acquitted them. The reasoning? The men had been charged with "fellatio," and those charges were invalid because the legislature had recently passed a measure requiring all laws to be written in English, and "fellatio" did not appear in English dictionaries. The defendants had been saved by another panic sweeping California -- the fear of foreigners taking over. Sometimes the best you can hope for is that two kinds of stupid cancel each other out.
Then The Navy Said, "Let's Catch The Gays By Having Sex With Them!"
As you can see, the military has had some issues dealing with homosexuality over the years. In 1919, they knew they had to take action when they heard of queer goings-on in the Navy YMCA. Wait, seriously? Yeah, in the Navy YMCA. They somehow combined both notable Village People songs.
There was said to be some crossdressing going on there, and even outright sodomy. To fix this, Navy Assistant Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered an investigation, which involved personnel going in and seducing the men there. And checking for cocaine use and searching for female sex workers, but that those parts were soon abandoned in favor of the men seducing men.
You may assume this would involve having an attractive officer smile at a suspect, get him to verbally ask for forbidden sex, and then immediately slap handcuffs on him. That is not what happened during the Newport Sex Sting. Instead, naval operatives were instructed to actually have sex with the suspects. As in orgasms for both parties, sometimes followed by spending the whole night in each other's arms.
The Navy successfully brought 17 cases to trial, but things stopped going so well when they tried expanding this operation to ensnare civilians. These civilians were all acquitted, and the Navy was humiliated when their tactics became public. The Providence Journal in particular went after FDR, who had just become the Democrats' 1920 presidential running mate. Their criticism continued throughout the campaign, until on the very eve of the election, FDR sued the paper for $500,000. He ended up getting destroyed in the election, a Senate report affirmed his guilt, and the suit never made it to court.
Incidentally, all the men who went undercover in this operation were totally straight, according to the Navy's official story. After all, they merely received oral sex, and always topped during anal. These were honest heterosexual men who participated in gay sex in the name of upholding the law, like in that one episode of South Park. The Navy even offered them a commendation for their "zeal."
An Early LGBT Rights Organization Was Shut Down As A "Strange Sex Cult"
So being gay in your own home was cause for being raided, but so was just talking about it. In fact, advocating for LGBT rights in that era was arguably even worse, because it could spur additional people to sin. And that brings us to Henry Gerber. He moved to the U.S. from Germany in 1913, may have enlisted in the Army to avoid being put in a U.S. concentration camp, and traveled back to Berlin, where he discovered a newly active gay political movement. On his return to America, he founded one of the country's first LGBT rights organizations, the Society for Human Rights.
The Society's officially stated purpose was as vague as its name, saying simply that it aimed to "promote and protect the interests of people who by reasons of mental and physical abnormalities are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness which is guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence." But the group's nature could only stay a secret for so long. Its vice president, unbeknownst to Gerber, had a wife, and when she heard what SHR was all about, she wasn't too pleased. She reported it to a social worker, who in turn reported it to the police. And so the police broke into Gerber's house (the group's headquarters) in 1925 and arrested him in the middle of the night.
The papers reported this raid under the headline "Strange Sex Cult Exposed." The group performed sex acts in front of children, said the media! (They did not.) Their newsletters encouraged men to leave their wives! (This too was false.) The police made sure to destroy all copies of the group's newsletters, declaring the publication to be an obscene work, and they confiscated Gerber's typewriter to make sure he couldn't write more of them.
At Gerber's trial, the prosecutor produced a powder puff found in his home as proof that he was gay. They'd apparently planted this, since Gerber never used powder puffs or makeup of any kind (shockingly, many gay men don't). The charges against him were finally dismissed on the grounds that the police hadn't had a search warrant, but this wasn't exactly a triumph of justice. It only happened because Gerber resorted to bribing the judge and prosecutor.
SHR remained shut down, the trial cost Gerber all of his savings, and he lost his job. But he did manage to reenlist in the Army, which is probably about as happy an ending as we were going to get here.
For more, check out Music Notes: Macklemore's Homophobic Gay Rights Song:
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