Community Action Against Homophobia Sydney Beat Project

Homosexuals demand the right to work!

Community Action against Homophobia (CAAH), which is a group which I think could reasonably be described as a Fourth-Internationalist front group, has launched its Sydney Beat Project.

For those who don’t know, “beats” are public places where men meet for generally anonymous sex. Once beats were frequently conducted at public toilets. In the post-AIDS era and also the era of withdrawal of public services generally, there are far fewer public toilets than there once were, and these are mostly locked up after hours. To an extent, the functions once performed by beats in the prohibitionist era for gay sex are now available through sex-on-premises venues, but beat-like activity still continues at nudist beaches and, nocturnally, in some parks.

D and I were alerted to this campaign by stories in the gay press.

The story in SX News and the online comments reveal a range of attitudes on this question. Beats are a divisive issue within the gay community: it cannot be denied that sex in public places challenges public acceptance of gay people, and those gay people who want to be “respectable” and respected by society are not always sympathetic to people who use beats. In fact, many beat users are “men who have sex with men” rather than avowedly gay men.

To quote the SX story:

[Rachel] Evans urged community members to attend CAAH’s vigil this Saturday night, from 10pm to 3am in the AIDS memorial grove, Sydney Park.

“We’ll be handing out condoms, and providing beat users with information cards informing them of their rights,” she said.

The AIDS Memorial Grove is a stand of trees at the south western corner of the park. That area is, as we have noticed before on a nocturnal ramble in the area (just strolling, honestly, officer!), an active beat. It meets criteria which are common to beats: shrubbery for shelter; few if any passers-by other than other beat participants; location just off a main traffic route out of the city (many beat users drop in on their way home to their wives).

D and I wondered how the demonstration would work out, and in particular how “beat users” would respond to activists queering their pitch.

Very much on the off-chance and as a bit of an afterthought, we headed down to the park at about 2.30 am hoping to catch the tail end of this “action.” As we arrived we saw a group of activist-looking people walking away from the park, and it was clear we’d arrived too late. We walked into the park and found a number of leaflets secured under weights on a park bench on one of the artificial hills. The leaflet mentioned that police had been issuing “move on” orders to people they found at the beat, and included some advice as to what people’s rights were in these circumstances. You can find this material on the CAAH link I have given above.

I am assuming that the use of “move on” powers is under section 197 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002. This empowers a police officer to give directions to persons in public places in certain circumstances. Under section 201 of the Act the police officer must supply the officer’s details and give warnings.

The police officer must believe on reasonable grounds that the person’s conduct:

(a) is obstructing another person or persons or traffic, or
(b) constitutes harassment or intimidation of another person or persons, or
(c) is causing or likely to cause fear to another person or persons, so long as the relevant conduct would be such as to cause fear to a person of reasonable firmness, or
(d) is for the purpose of unlawfully supplying, or intending to unlawfully supply, or soliciting another person or persons to unlawfully supply, any prohibited drug, or
(e) is for the purpose of obtaining, procuring or purchasing any prohibited drug that it would be unlawful for the person to possess.

As to (c), no such person actually needs to be present, though arguably there need to be reasonable grounds to believe that such persons may be present.

Apparently, police have been issuing “directions” under the Act that people not return to the park for periods of up to 28 days. This seems to me to be an abuse of the power. There are also claims of a certain amount of other bullying and abusive conduct by police officers.

I started this post meaning to say something more general about the historical conflicts between hard-left revolutionists and soft-left pragmatists, as well as the suspicions held of opportunism against Fourth-Internationalists on questions of gender and sexuality politics. For the time being, I’ll have to leave the picture at the head of this post to stand for that discussion. It dates from a campaign by the then Socialist Workers Party in about 1978.

CAAH propose to continue their demonstrations at Sydney Park. In particular they have said they will be there again on 29 November, on the eve of World Aids Day. D and I have agreed we will try to get there a bit earlier in the night to lend our support.

5 Responses to “Community Action Against Homophobia Sydney Beat Project”

  1. Victor Says:

    I was arrested at a beat through entrapment by a plain clothesed officer when I was just 12 years old, interviewed at the police station without any adult (other than the police) present, instructed to complete a statement incorporating some (but not all) words provided by the police and then escorted home to my parents who were given the statement to read.

    That was 47 years ago and I had assumed police entrapment was no longer practised but reading the Project site it seems that may not be the case.

  2. Loitering in Arncliffe « Stumbling on melons Says:

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  3. Badamj Says:

    I met some of the SBP guys last Saturday night . I’m a proponent of Beats and mourn their demise due to a rising moral backlash. I don’t like sex-on–premise venues and resent having to pay.

    I understand that there are state-sanctioned beats in public parks in Amsterdam and London! Why not here?

  4. Freddy Says:

    I had a similar experience to Victor a few years back, entrapment by a council ranger, who was loitering in a stall in a well used beat.
    I made the mistake of opening my stall door oposite his and flashed a certain part of my anotomy, to find myself charged with offensive behaviour, amazing if I had stood at the urinal with that same part on display it would not have been offensive! The worst is how you are treated when they get you outside.

    I agree with other comments be good if we had state sanctioned beats, or councils that allowed more sex-on-premise venues, in areas that were accessible.

  5. David Says:

    My happiest times have been spent at beats, naked with another man or men in the evening. Most of my sex from my teens to about 40 was at beats, where I always felt happy, relaxed and myself. Im in my late 50s now and I am too scared to go to them – which is a great pity.

    As a teenager I found my first beat at a toilet in a park on my own – no-one told it was where to go for sex – I just knew. My point is using beats is completely natural fr gay men.

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