Word From SF: Cruising In Parks Still Common
Decades ago, men in San Francisco who wanted to hook up with other men had limited options. There were bars or places like city parks, but wherever they went to find each other, there was often a risk of police harassment and arrest.
Now, with more acceptance of gays, and the ease of hooking up via mobile apps like Grindr and websites like Adam4Adam, it may seem like visiting the outdoors for sex is a thing of the past. But it’s not.
Based on interviews with several gay San Francisco men and visits to local parks, men of all ages are still cruising in the city’s outdoor spaces. Among other reasons, they find the Internet inefficient, and they like being outside. Often, the men said, they’re just looking for oral sex.
The fact that men still visit the parks to hook up is likely common knowledge to many. One man in Dolores Park told a reporter who admitted to not being intimately familiar with the scene, "You’ve never been up here? I find that hard to believe."
However, others, including police, are unaware of how much it still happens.
At about 4 p.m. on a recent Sunday afternoon in Golden Gate Park’s western edge, a band played on the lawn of the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant. The eatery is located close to Ocean Beach and the park’s iconic windmills, which have been known for years to draw men who’re looking for sex.
Nearby, just outside the park’s soccer fields, Jeff, 67, lingered by a tree with the top few buttons of his plaid shirt undone.
Jeff, who didn’t want his last name published, said he comes to the area "a couple times a week" to "suck dick and chase after men, get some exercise, and smoke some weed."
He added, "I’m an old-fashioned cocksucker and not very anal. ... That’s why I survived the plague," referring to the AIDS epidemic that killed thousands of men in the city beginning in the early 1980s.
As Jeff, a semi-retired chef, spoke, about six other men paced around silently within a few feet of each other, waiting for someone who interested them.
Jeff said he first cruised in the area about 25 years ago, and he sees fewer people there than he used to. He attributed the decline to the recreation and parks department clearing out greenery. A spokesman for the agency didn’t provide comment for this story.
Most of the men near him appeared to be in their 50s and older, but Jeff said he sees men of all ages in the area. There was one man who didn’t seem older than 35 who declined to speak with a reporter. That was the case with several men who appeared to be looking for hook ups in the city’s parks but either wouldn’t talk or said they didn’t know anything about cruising.
Another Part of Golden Gate
A short walk away from Jeff, near the intersection of John F. Kennedy Drive and Bernice Rogers Way, several men who appeared to be 50 or older stood quietly or walked around slowly.
This was the area where, in July 2012, San Francisco resident David Borowy, 55, was found dead with his pants down around his ankles. His death was initially considered a possible murder, but the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office eventually determined he’d had heart disease and died of natural causes.
A few days after Borowy’s body was found, several men near the site talked about how the park had been a well-known cruising spot for years. When a reporter returned on a recent Sunday afternoon, it appeared that its popularity hadn’t diminished.
Bryan Anderson, 65, who’s gay, was talking to another man near the clump of trees where Borowy’s body had been found. Anderson said he’d come to the park out of "boredom" and to get some exercise. He was "semi"-cruising, he said, but "not expecting thrills."
Asked about going online to hook up, Anderson, who said he’d first had sex in the park in 1989, said he has roommates who are younger than him and "live on the Internet." For him, "60 percent of it is getting out of the house," he said.
There didn’t appear to be police officers in either area of Golden Gate Park, and the cruisers didn’t seem worried about encountering any. When the Bay Area Reporter requested an interview with Captain Sharon Ferrigno, who heads the San Francisco Police Department’s Richmond Station, which oversees most of the park, a staffer referred questions to the police media relations unit. SFPD spokespeople didn’t respond to an emailed interview request.
Captain Greg Corrales, who’s been with the SFPD for 44 years, heads Park Station, which oversees parts of the Haight and Castro neighborhoods. The station’s territory includes Buena Vista Park, which has a reputation for being cruisy.
Corrales said he’s never dealt with the issue of gay men cruising in the parks himself, but "the attitudes of the police department have certainly changed in the past 40 years."
"When I came in the department" police "went through various parks trying to catch people engaged in sexual activity. That mentality hasn’t existed in decades in this department," he said.
"I think the general public has become more enlightened, and cops are part of the general population," Corrales explained. "Cops have become more enlightened as the years go by."
He said nobody’s been cited at Buena Vista Park this year for having sex.
"We do not get any complaints" about men hooking up in the parks, said Corrales. "I don’t believe it’s going on anymore." He said if it is, it’s being done "discreetly."
"If we don’t get complaints, it doesn’t exist, as far as we’re concerned," said Corrales.
Top of the Hill
In recent years, Buena Vista Park has been associated with the June 2011 death of Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23, whose burned, mostly naked body was found with a partially melted recycling bin on a park hill. David Munoz Diaz, 24, has been charged with strangling Canul-Arguello to death during a sexual encounter. The two men had known each other prior to the night they met up and headed to the park. A prosecutor in the case has said the motive was robbery, but Diaz’s public defender has called the death "a terrible accident."
Just before sunset on a recent Sunday night, a handful of men lingered near the top of the lush, hilly park, which is at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and offers spectacular views of San Francisco and the bay.
One man leaned against a wooden rail for several minutes. The man, who’s 40 and didn’t want his name published, said he preferred visiting the park to going online for hook-ups.