Apparently, a Supreme Court ruling isn’t even enough to keep law enforcement in Louisiana from harassing the LGBT community. It appears that the Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Deputies t has been conducting illegal strings against the gay community since at least 2011. The stings involved an undercover officer approaching men in a park, and getting them to agree to have sex in a private location. That’s it. Not men looking to have sex in public, with children, or even for money (this is not a judgement on my part, except for the sex with kids part. Just mentioning actual enforceable laws). No, they’re just looking for gay men willing to have entirely consensual, private sex for free, and arresting them for violating Louisiana’s “crimes against nature” laws. The trouble is, the Supreme Court very clearly struck down such laws in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.
The Baton Rouge Sheriff’s office initially claimed that they had no idea that the laws were declared unconstitutional and were unenforceable and the their deputies acted on “good faith.” None of the 11 men who have been arrested in such stings since 2011 have been charged, of course. That hardly seems to matter; these men were still publicly outed, had their names and pictures published, had to endure the stress of arrest and detainment, and were forced to spend money on legal representation and bail. My research turns up no instances of straight people similarly targeted for this kind of treatment, even though the Louisiana anti-sodomy law covers both hetero- and homosexual acts. It seems a little crazy to think that someone would keep authorizing these stings (and their expense) if no conviction had ever resulted in if there were no ulterior motive. This appears to me to be either a very clear case of members of the Sheriff’s department specifically targeting the LGBT community for harassment and humiliation, or incompetence and mismanagement of a law enforcement office to an extent that someone should go to jail. Which side of this coin do you want to be, Baton Rouge? In either case, I would suspect that this sort of thing will end up costing the city severely in either a settlement or a lengthy and ugly civil suit.
Unfortunately, the ignorance (or just plain ignoring) of Lawrence v. Texas isn’t isolated to Baton Rouge. In Virginia, GOP Attorney General and Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Cuccinelli is fighting to keep anti-sodomy laws on the books and enforced. Cuccinelli is dredging up the long-since-debunked pseudoscience garbage connecting and equating queer people with pedophiles to built support for his effort. Not surprisingly, he’s also pretty well known for getting his ass handed to him during an climate-change-denying witchhunt. I guess jurisprudence and constitutional law aren’t requirements to be Attorney General in Virginia.
It’s hard to deny the long-standing culture of homophobia within police departments across the country, even if it often falls just under the radar (Amnesty International did a lovely piece of this a few years back). Cases like this certainly don’t do much to improve the already very tarnished image of law enforcement in the eyes of the LGBT community. With queer hate crimes remaining still all-too common, where are we supposed to turn to when even those charged with protecting us are complicit in our abuse?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it appears that, at the very least, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff, Ed Gautreaux, is at least putting forth an effort to make amends and effect change after these cases came to light a few days ago. While it certainly won’t undo the damage already inflicted on these men, but at the very least it might reduce the chance that such things will happen again in the future. Unfortunately, with anti-sodomy laws still on the books in many states, I fear we may see some copycatting of this behavior. The best solution, of course, is get these laws repealed officially. However, as controversial as all queer related topics remain politically, I don’t see this happening any time soon. Nonetheless, it remains of vital importance for us a community to know our rights, the laws that might affect us, and to vigorously defend ourselves and each other when these kinds of violations occur.