Gay sex sting victims might have to register as sex offenders

Sat. July 17, 2010 11:47 PM by News Staff

Palm Springs, Calif. - Gay men arrested during a sex sting in Palm Springs are being charged under a California law that could force them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

The 24 men were arrested last summer in a gay neighborhood by two undercover police officers. The victims say the cops were the aggressors.

"A typical scenario would be a couple of cops, who were dressed in tank tops, would walk around grabbing their crotches and staring at the defendants' crotches saying, 'Show me what you got,'" defense attorney Roger Tansey told the San Francisco Chronicle.

"In no case did they come upon any man already having sex," he said. "In many cases the defendants were reluctant to participate and wanted to go back to a room or someplace more private and were coaxed to stay and allegedly expose themselves by the officers."

While Palm Springs' population is estimated to be at least 30 percent gay, there is not a single openly gay man on the police force.

Gay leaders in Palm Springs are also angry about an audio tape from inside one of the police cars, on which one officer can be heard using a gay slur while the other cop laughs.

The Chronicle reports that the men are charged under Section 290(c) of the California Penal Code. If they are convicted, they will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives, and will face discrimination at work, in housing, and in other public arenas.

Attorneys for the gay men say that straight people are never charged under this law.

Gay tourists spend millions of dollars every year in Palm Springs, so business leaders and some city council members are leaning heavily on the police chief to address the situation.

"Palm Springs spends a significant amount of resources on tourism as our driving economic factor," said City Manager David Ready. "So anything that affects tourism is of great concern to the city. That being said, the chief is doing his internal review of this sting operation, and he will be making recommendations on our policy going forward."