Saturday, September 1, 2007

More on the Tearoom Trade

In honor of the announcement this morning that Larry Craig (R-Idaho) will resign from the U.S. Senate, let's continue with our discussion of the "Tearoom Trade," a slang term for seemingly heterosexual men seeking homosexual activity with strangers in public places.

That, of course, is what led to Craig's arrest in a Minneapolis restroom. And as I noted in my previous post, research into the characters and events surrounding the Legal Schnauzer case, caused me to look into the "tearoom" issue further. The defining work on the subject is Laud Humphreys' Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, based on research in St. Louis in the 1960s.

It seems the general public is unaware how prevalent this problem is. Perhaps the Craig case will cause social scientists to take another look at the issues Humphreys raised some 40 years ago.

While the Craig case generates some snickering, particularly because he is a "family values" Republican, the "Tearoom Trade" presents a serious issue. If you study the problem to any extent, you realize there are a lot of confused men out there. And there are a lot of marriages and families containing some pretty dark secrets.

Here is some more of what I discovered:

* Craig is hardly the first political figure to have this problem. Perhaps the most famous case came in October 1964 when Walter Jenkins, an aide to President Lyndon Johnson, was arrested on a sex charge after being caught with another man at a YMCA. This was just weeks before Johnson was to run against Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. Audiotapes released in 1998 showed that Johnson thought Republicans had set up Jenkins by hiring a bartender to lure him into the YMCA after a cocktail party. Jenkins resigned when his arrest was made public. After spending a few days in a Washington hospital, he went home to Texas and never returned to the White House.

* My favorite example of a political figure being caught with a "tearoom" problem has to be Matthew Glavin, former president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation. A staunch right-winger, Glavin spent considerable effort trying to have President Bill Clinton's law license revoked in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Turns out that Glavin was arrested not once, but twice, for public indecency. Both incidents came at the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area in Georgia, first in 1996 and again in 2000. In both cases, Glavin was caught masturbating in public. In the second incident, an undercover federal officer reported that Glavin fondled him after he encountered the activist pleasuring himself. Glavin promptly resigned his position with the Southeastern Legal Foundation.

* Alabama has seen several "teamroom" incidents in recent years. The most recent came in July 2006 when 27 people were cited for acts of public indecency and lewdness at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur. That sting, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alabama conservation officers, resulted in the arrests of a minister and a prominent lawyer, a former president of the Alabama State Bar. In 2004, a sting at two recreation areas near Mobile, snagged more than a dozen men for soliciting sex acts. A former state representative and a former sports editor of the Mobile Press-Register were among those arrested. A brief item about about that case is noted here, about halfway down the page. And finally, a 2002 sweep in Tuscaloosa netted 18 men, arrested for soliciting sex or indecent exposure at Bowers Park and Riverview Boat Landing. Those arrested ranged in age from 31 to 76 and included a minister.

* Want to get an idea of how prevalent this problem is? Once a month go into Google and type "indecent lewd public park restroom," or some combination of those words. You are almost certain to find a recent incident of the "tearoom" type. In fact, I just found one here in Hartford, Connecticut. Here is another about a teacher and church youth leader arrested in Knoxville, Tennessee. Here is another in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which included a Baptist minister and a college instructor. Here is another in Athens, Georgia, and this one involves a woman having public sex with a 15-year-old; also involves a number of men. You get the idea of how widespread this problem. I found these from five minutes of research on the Web.

So Larry Craig might be in deep doo-doo, but he is not alone.

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