Opinion: Recent arrests of gay men in Dublin public toilets echo the dark ages

Some believe that these recent arrests by An Garda Siochána amount to entrapment.

Image of a persons hands behind their back in handcuffs

I am writing this piece to express my sadness and anger surrounding the arrest of five young gay men at Dublin’s Marks & Spencer toilets, Mary Street in June of this year. These men were all accused of an offence contrary to the Sexual Offences Act including masturbation and exposure.

Many believe what took place was entrapment by undercover plainclothes members of An Garda Siochána. One of the men who was charged said in court that although he accepted the guards were doing their job, he felt like there was an element of entrapment. Two of the accused men now have a criminal record for life.

This can be a delicate topic and readers may be unsure of how they really feel towards the activity of the accused men. Men have been having sex with men (MSM) in toilets, parks, beaches and outdoors for decades. This is not some new phenomenon, they even have a term for gay men having sex in public toilets: cottaging. Indeed, straight people are also having plenty of public sex outdoors at so-called “dogging” locations and in many a public nightclub bathroom over the years too.

The late George Michael springs to mind here, famously entrapped by an undercover police officer in LA in 1998. Soon afterwards he bravely released the song “Let’s go Outside” to highlight the stigma around cruising for MSM.

I am not here to judge these young men but what I am here for is to speak out against the barbaric practice of entrapment, which now may be creeping back into modern-day Ireland. This practice has already left decades of shame, guilt, and mental anguish for the men convicted of consenting same-sex sexual acts over the years.  As Ireland prides itself as a tolerant and equal society, how can we possibly remain silent if this persecution of gay men continues to be deployed by the state?

From UK research, in the 128 years from 1885 to 2013, around 100,000 men were convicted of consenting to same-sex acts. Many were jailed and nearly all suffered devastating knock-on consequences: they lost their jobs, families, and friends disowned them and they were often abused and assaulted. Many descended into a downward spiral of depression, alcoholism, mental illness, and suicide or attempted suicide. (Source: Peter Tatchell 2015)

Additional aspects of this case are also quite disturbing. Firstly, I was made aware by members of the Brazilian gay community that the Brazilian gay men involved in the Marks and Spencer toilets case were named and shamed including disclosure of their private addresses while “a married man with children” was not named. Just last week in Dublin, a woman sent for trial charged with having sex with a dog has been granted full anonymity. Does this really seem equal and consistent to you?

The other disturbingly dark side to this story is the age-old association of gay men and children being dragged into the courtroom.  “There could have been children around” the Judge proclaimed.  Yes, there could have been but there weren’t. Shouldn’t we be sticking to the facts?

I shudder when I hear this very subtle way of associating paedophilia with gay men and it repulses me to hear this still being brought into an Irish courtroom.  Indeed, one of the solicitors stupidly claimed “at least it didn’t happen outside a school as the case can often be”. What an absurd, insensitive, and dangerous remark to make in 2021. Gay men have had to put up with years of this shaming narrative around the abhorrent association with paedophilia, seriously impacting their mental health.

It is important to note that much but not all of this type of MSM sexual behaviour is known to be compulsive and addictive and is often a mask for underlying mental health issues. Perhaps just pause for one minute and think about what it’s like to have a criminal record for life after being arrested by plain-clothed guards in a public toilet?

Were other options for tackling this issue fully explored?  If these were all first-time offences why not issue a caution which would usually be the case?  Can we not see a desperate need for education and support for men around this issue before they are shamed and criminalised for life?

To conclude, this is a messy business and my only hope is that more people, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community will speak up and speak out and question whether entrapment was involved. Entrapment is an ugly archaic method of policing which should have no place on this island. We didn’t get to where we are now from being silent all these years. Speak up, please say something, as silence is the real killer here.


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