by Beth Maples-Bays
Editor and Publisher
Equality Herald

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Knoxville Police have arrested 15 men at Tyson Park, charging them with various charges including indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, simple possession, and possession of paraphernalia.

Reports in the Knoxville News-Sentinel and on local television news broadcasts indicate the men may have moved from a boat ramp at I.C. King Park in Blount County, a former site for these illegal activities. The increase in activity at Tyson Park followed a June sting at that location.

The story airing on TV station WVLT on Wednesday, Dec. 27, followed up on a story that originally ran in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Dec. 25, after the Knoxville Police Department (KPD), responding to citizen complaints, raided the park on Christmas day.

WVLT-TV’s original story indicated that KPD said “the homosexual population [had] been gathering” at the park. Following calls to Whitney Daniel, WVLT-TV news reporter, by the Greater Knoxville LGBTQ Leadership Council, the online news story was changed. The offensive language was replaced with generic descriptors for the group arrested at Tyson Park.

The reference has sparked a storm of controversy in the Knoxville LGBT community. Members are voicing their displeasure with the local news station’s depiction of gay men.

“I am upset that the newscaster made the comment that the parks are a place for homosexuals to meet. It sounded like a scare tacit almost and lumped us all in one category. I do not go to parks and know very few gay men that actually do. Most [of the men] I have heard about from friends are actually married men,” says Tim Thomas, director of a local equestrian center.

“These articles and news bytes are all aimed at depicting gay men as perverts who will expose themselves anywhere, anytime, to anyone, ignoring any and all social decency, well, those kinds of perverts end up in mental institutions, not prisons. Most gay men are not like that, “says Brian Varner, medical ethicist formerly associated with Tennessee AIDS Support and Services.

“I have actually heard more flashing stories from straight women than gay men, and I would be willing to bet that the flasher in most cases is not gay. In the UT Daily Beacon, there used to be a "crime log" section, and every day, or just about every day, there would be a line about a male exposing himself to a female. That is still not socially acceptable, but no one ever got their name put in the crime log for that, as far as I know,” Varner continues.

In fact, Varner indicates that the only definitive study on the sexual orientation of men who engage in anonymous sex is commonly known as the “Tea Room Trade,” a 1970 study of 100 men. The study showed that 54 percent of the men studied were married and living with their wives. Only 14 percent of the men studied were primarily gay-identified.

Knoxville Police Department spokesperson Lt. Mark Presley had not returned calls at press time, however reporters with the Equality Herald expect him to respond in the near future and will update this story when that happens.

Tyson Park was also the site that two young gay men were verbally harassed, sparking community-wide indignation and resulting in the “Holding Hands” demonstration that occured earlier this year.

The WVLT story also featured Barbara Pelot, Knoxville City Council member. Calls to her office were not returned as this story goes to press.

Last June, officials from Blount County arrested six men from the Knoxville and Maryville areas in a sting that took place at a TVA boat ramp off Alcoa Highway.

According to reports by WATE TV in Knoxville, Blount County officials arrested the men after they received reports complaining of men having sex with men. The June 15 sting marked the second time the boat ramp was the backdrop for similar arrests in a two-week period.

Local reports describe the activity as “homosexual,” occurring during workday lunch hours. The men ranged in age from 36-60 and were charged with indecent exposure. The charge carries up to a $500 fine for the first two offenses, with any charges thereafter going up to $1,500 and a jail sentence of up to one year.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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