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Cruising and cottaging are two things that are seen as representing the darker side of gay life. They are viewed by some as dirty and perverted. Although I don’t partake in such activities (apart from once accidently), I don’t really see what is wrong with them. I am all for people having sex and getting their thrills in any way they choose, as long as it is safe. Sadly it is the case that cruising and cottaging areas are a breeding ground for the darker side of the gay world.
I am involved with a local LGBT network that consists of my local authority and organisations such as the LGBTQ youth support charity I run. The subject of cruising and cottaging has been raised at some of the meetings and in private discussions with various members. In my local town there are some public toilets that are a well known cottaging ground. Some days you can go into the town centre and see a line of men outside the toilets waiting to be picked up and taken inside them for sex. Not too far away there are two areas of woodland that are notorious cruising grounds. One of the woods has a layby on the road that runs alongside it where truckers regularly park and are tended to by trans* sex workers. The Terrence Higgins Trust have done some monitoring in the area and witnessed one of the sex workers getting into the trucks of six men in the space of two hours.
The consensus is that something needs to be done about these cruising grounds and cottages. There are some who want to shut them down and charge the people engaging in sexual activity with a range of offences relating to public indecency. I am against such a move.
It is my belief that if a public sex environment is shut down then the people using them will find somewhere else to go. It won’t solve the problem; it will force the men to have sex in other places. I am for a more sensible approach that at the same time manages what is happening. I feel that education and the promotion of safe sex is the way forward. Schemes such as THT’s condom drop to one of the cruising grounds are a way of encouraging men to be safe when having a sexual encounter. I do not believe it is possible to stop all of this behaviour and feel this is a better way of managing it.
Another method of management that I feel would work is having a team of outreach workers who can go to the public sex environments and engage with the sex workers. I imagine that some of them may be in a dire situation if they have to resort to prostitution. Perhaps having someone to speak to who won’t judge them could be the thing that these people need. Advice and support can be offered and it could help people to move on from their current situation. It is more important to understand the reasons why people do certain things and to offer support rather than simply shutting these areas down and punishing the individuals who use them.
The concern that will be raised regarding that strategy is that it is going to cost money and there would be questions over who would foot the bill. I don’t think that a price can be put on someone’s health and wellbeing though. They are the most important things that we need to preserve. It is something that will be an ongoing discussion in this area for some time before action is taken. Of course I can only talk about little old Warwickshire, and do not know what it is like in other areas. Perhaps other parts of the country have strategies for handling public sex environments that I can learn from and try to implement here. It is certainly something that I will be looking into.
I don’t care about money or the cost of things. I don’t agree with shutting down public sex environments. What I care about is ensuring the wellbeing of LGBT people through education, promotion of safe sex and the offer of support to those in need. The good that those strategies can bring far outweighs the concerns. If you go cruising or cottaging, enjoy yourself, but please stay safe too.