I'm no proponent of washroom sex. Never will I argue that it's a gay right. I've often wondered why the activity exists at all, with so many social groups, clubs and bars in Toronto providing ample opportunity to socialize.
Why would people risk their very life, disease and run-ins with homophobes to have anonymous sex? Do participants find themselves empowered? Or is this primarily an outlet for an older age demographic?
I begin my own journalistic probe to answer these questions -- I'm currently writing a book on Canadian universities' handling of gay rights -- and find some disturbingly heavy-handed behaviour.
Not, mind you, on the part of men engaging in this activity, although I'm sure there's some of that, but by security guards hired by firms to police public washrooms in buildings downtown. It seems that just being in places where gays are know to hang out can put you in line for rough treatment.
In recent months, I've seen guards looking directly into cubicles intended for the public's private use.
In some cases, they've kicked or punched in the doors of cubicles to intimidate occupants whom they mistakenly believe to be engaging in gay sex.
The public washrooms at Greenwin Mall at Sherbourne and Bloor have apparently been closed entirely -- not because there's gay sex actually going on, but seemingly because the high volume of gay people who happen to live in the neighbourhood raises the possibility of gay sex.
But it's over at College Park where I find the most aggressive behaviour on the part of security guards.
There, I watch a guard clear out the washrooms, shouting, "OK, you bunch of faggots. Pull in those dicks and get the fuck out of here, ya bunch of perverts."
Gay Grit MPP George Smitherman says he's received a few complaints but has seen nothing that can be described as a pattern. Out city councillor Kyle Rae is more reluctant to accept that there's an issue here -- perhaps because of his recent problems with police.
But the problem is very real, as I learn when I stop in to use the facilities at College Park to clear my bladder and blow my nose, and find myself being harassed by security.
A guard from Intercon Security asks me for ID. I refuse.
I have 10 years experience as an undercover officer with Sears, where I apprehended shoplifters and dealt with offenders and police on a daily basis. I've also worked as an armed guard at various embassies in Ottawa and as a corrections officer at the Kingston pen.
I'm not about to be intimidated or let this chap kick me out without explaining why. He only repeats his demand for ID more loudly. And says I'll be banned if I don't comply. All of this occurs without notice or any provocation at all.
Ready to leave anyway, I begin making my way to the exit, telling the guard, who's hot on my heels, that I'll be back tomorrow to speak with the property managers.
Heading toward the door, I begin reassessing the stupidity of the situation. I've done nothing wrong. I call the police on a pay phone. The guard insists I wait outside the building. When I refuse, he handcuffs me roughly and takes me to the security office, where he punches me and throws me from one side of the room to the other. He has to be restrained by a second guard.
It's then that another guard emerges with a Polaroid camera and announces that I'm under arrest for trespassing and that he intends to take my picture and read me my rights.
I demand a lawyer.
Minutes later the police arrive. The officer I speak to informs me that "they are just concerned because they have men masturbating in the washroom. But they're not accusing you of that."
Yet the officer writes me out a ticket for trespassing anyway. And here I thought the security guard needed a reason to kick me out in the first place.
My complaint to the officer in charge at 52 Division goes unheeded.
"Well, except for putting on the cuffs too tight to cause those marks, I don't see what he did wrong," the officer tells me. "There are no grounds for (charges of) assault or harassing you."
In the end, there are no grounds for the trespass charge either. It ended up being dismissed a couple of weeks ago in court. Neither the security guard nor the cops show up.
Aidan Maher, the 52 Division superintendent, says the officer probably shouldn't have laid a charge in the first place. He advises me to lodge a complaint. I'm not holding my breath.
Repeated calls for an explanation to Intercon's director of security and the property management company in charge at College Park have gone unanswered.
Visitors may want to avoid the washrooms there.