Marietta pol frets over ‘perverts’ in park

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imageOh, those crafty cruisers in Cobb County.

They seem to have outwitted police and city officials in Marietta and have made A.L. Burruss Nature Park a safe-haven for cruising and public sex between men.

All the hand-wringing has them debating whether to close the park for two years or spend millions to upgrade the facility to attract more people who want to enjoy nature but do so without engaging in public sex.

Here’s an idea: Park a marked police car at the park’s entrance and, magically, our money is that the cruising will stop. But that’s just us. Spending millions from a parks bond referendum will only make the Burruss a nicer place to blow and go in public.

Arrests at the park haven’t helped, according to the Marietta Daily Journal, which published a story Friday that had the feel of a sweeps week expose the likes of which we see on local TV news.

Down the trails, men lean against trees. Condoms, beer cans and cigarette packs litter the ground. Out in the parking lot, middle-aged men sit in their cars, watching.

On Tuesday, a Journal reporter accompanied Parks and Recreation Director Rich Buss on a tour of the city’s parks, including Burruss. Pulling into the parking lot, which is hidden from South Cobb Parkway by trees, were six cars with middle-aged men sitting in them. When Buss pulled his car up to one of them to park, he advised the reporter to look the other way because the man in the driver’s seat was engaging in sexual activity with himself. Buss was not surprised. He said any man who walks alone through the park will likely be propositioned.

Just to be clear, we’re not condoning having sex in plain view in a public park. But what’s amusing about situations like this in Marietta is that it can be addressed with amped up, visible police patrols. Not arrests and not cops posing as gay cruisers on Craigslist, like they do in neighboring Paulding County. A visible police car will shift the cruising somewhere else.

imageWhat’s unfortunate about the situation is that it provides ammunition to bigots such as Grif Chalfant (photo), who sits on the Marietta City Council. He calls the men who frequent the park for sex a “perverted bunch.” His hateful comments get worse.

“I don’t understand that group – a perverted bunch,” Chalfant said, referring to gay men having sex in the parks. “I don’t know anybody who goes there. I wouldn’t want to be there. It’s like lover’s lane for – whatever.”

“Normal people have nothing do over there except for a couple of trails. If we had a soccer field, normal people would use it. If you make it a destination place you will possibly eliminate the problem.”

Normal people, huh? According to the MDJ, the men in the park are quite like Chalfant — middle-aged white men.

Our other nit with the article — which is minor when compared to the homophobic, bigoted comments of Chalfant — is that the MDJ refers to a “Cobb law enforcement official” who “said the parks are advertised in gay publications and Web sites as a spot to come for public sex among gay men.” That’s a sweeping indictment of all things gay, when in fact, there’s not a “gay publication” in town that publishes hot spots for public sex.

Now, Craigslist and Cruising for Sex are a different story. Though a quick search of Craigslist provides — wait for it — zero personal ads for men wanting to meet for sex in Burruss Park. On Cruising for Sex, Burriss is the first listing in the “public places” category, though the reviews are mixed.

New comments added February, 2009:
“They have cut down all the trees so it’s just a big open area with few places to go for any privacy.”

New comments added March, 2009:
“The park has been cleared and is not good for cruising anymore. Marietta police are there all the time.”

New comments added May, 2009:
“You can still cruise here. You just have to take a guy deep into the park where there are still trees to do anything fun.”

Hat tip to Creative Loafing.

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