SF police crackdown on Dore fair sex
by Matthew S. Bajko
San Francisco police are cracking down on public sex acts at this year's Dore Alley street fair in July and are warning organizers that if they do not control attendees, the event's longevity will be in doubt.
The stepped up enforcement against lewd behavior at the South of Market street party, officially known as the Up Your Alley Fair, comes after two individuals filed numerous complaints with the city's Office of Citizen Complaints against the 14 police officers assigned to patrol the 2008 event for not addressing the acts of public indecency.
Police also point to the Web site http://www.zombietime.com that documented numerous photos of men performing oral sex, urinating in public, and masturbating from second floor windows overlooking the fair as another reason for their increased vigilance. The site, created by an anonymous local photographer, also questions why the police took no action against the public nudity and sexual behavior at the fair.
"The fair promoters are the ones who have to take charge; this is their event. If they don't run it properly, they will not be having it again," said SFPD Lieutenant Nicole M. Greely, who oversees street closure issues for the police department's Southern Station. "If this event doesn't go well, we can't continue to approve their permit unless it is safe for everyone involved."
Due to the complaints, the police are requiring the fair organizers to develop a more stringent security plan to deal with people who break the law at the event. Greely said simply because someone is attending an enclosed street fair does not mean that laws regarding public nudity and lewd behavior do not apply.
"There is no public sex allowed, that is illegal. Nudity laws still apply and laws against urinating in public still apply," said Greely. "Sometimes things gradually get out of hand and that is what happened here. Last year it got out of control."
It is the first time that the police have demanded the Up Your Alley Fair organizers to address public sex acts and lewd behavior in their security plan for the event, said Greely. If they don't rein in such behavior this year, then the police have threatened not to support the fair's application in 2010.
"We always require security for these events. This time we are asking them to address these problems," she said. "Hopefully they will be able to control it if they want to have the event next year."
The department's stance caught off guard officials with Folsom Street Events, the nonprofit producer of both the Up Your Alley Fair and Folsom Street Fair. Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis said the first time he learned about the complaints stemming from the 2008 event came during last week's meeting before a panel of city staffers charged with approving street closure requests.
At the hearing, Greely said that the "public sex last year was very blatant" at Up Your Alley and that people sent the police photos that "were very demented."
The hearing grew testy when Moshoyannis said he had not been apprised of the problems and Greely jokingly asked how he could not know of the sex occurring, eliciting laughter from those present.
"I don't think this is funny at all," shot back a visibly annoyed Moshoyannis, who asked "SFPD to address us within 30 days of the event if there are problems." He added that if brought to his attention earlier, "We can help you do your jobs."
The Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation oversight body, known as ISCOTT, did vote to approve the street closure permits for both fairs this year. But the approval came with the caveat that the police had to still sign off on approving the Dore Alley fair's security plan. And Folsom Street Events will be required to pay for the cost of six parking control officers and 10 SFPD officers, as determined by Southern Station, for patrolling the Dore fair.
Harvey Quan, chair of the meeting, said the sex acts occurring at the fair "are not normal behavior" and "are a major problem here."
Both during the meeting last Thursday, April 23 and in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Moshoyannis criticized Greely for not alerting him or his board of the police's concerns immediately following last year's event.
"I have not had a chance to sit down and speak with Southern Station and Lieutenant Greely in particular," he said. "At this time I am not entirely comfortable with the fact she has aired her grievances to ISCOTT and to the media without coming to me first."
In a phone interview this week Greely, however, said it is up to event organizers to follow up with the police to see if there were any problems.
"We go on to the next event. The people having the party need to reach out to everybody, including the neighbors, business owners, and the police, to see what the problems are and fix them," she said.
At the meeting, the police sergeant handling the Folsom fairs' permit requests, Laura Knight, said she is new to her job and had only recently learned about the issue with last year's fair.
"I do apologize," she said. "I will give you any complaints from this year."
She said overall, the fair's security plan was "good" but needed "some tweaking."
The Up Your Alley Fair is the more local, smaller cousin to the Folsom Street Fair held in September. Greely said the same concerns did not pop up at the larger and less gay-specific Folsom Street Fair last fall.
"I don't know why but Folsom has a little different ambience," she said. "There is not as much inappropriate behavior as at Up Your Ally."
Moshoyannis voiced concerns that the Dore fair's future could be impacted due to complaints filed by a few people who may not even live in the city. Anti-gay groups have routinely attacked the fair and gone after the companies that are its official sponsors, such as the Miller Brewing Company.
He said he has not been told just how many complaints where filed, who filed them, and if they are members of the community.
"I understand in the Internet age one disgruntled community member can create a big stink. The reality is that this person is not a member of our community, the way I see it," he said.
The Office of Citizen Complaints did not respond to the B.A.R. 's request for comment by press time.
Greely said she could not go into details about the complaints since they are considered personnel matters. But she did say that the two individuals who filed them live in San Francisco and did not appear to be with anti-gay groups.
She said the problem is that any complaints filed with the Office of Citizen Complaints are "taken very seriously and stay with the officer" no matter if they are determined to be of no merit.
She also pointed out that the police are taking a stronger stance in terms of nudity and public urination at non-LGBT events such as the Bay to Breakers race this year and the How Weird Street Fair due to the public's complaints and calls for more vigorous enforcement.
"We like these events and hope everyone has fun," Greely said, "but we need to keep the bar higher," in terms of holding the fairs accountable for the actions of their attendees.
But Moshoyannis said it doesn't make sense to threaten his fair's future based on anonymous complaints of one or two people.
"I believe the good work we do for our community, including the overwhelming amount of charitable giving we offer, far outweighs the few people who file the complaints against us and the SFPD officers," he said.
Enforcement will be increased
This year's Up Your Alley Fair is set to take place Sunday, July 26 and organizers are planning for 12,000 people to attend. Attendees can expect to be greeted with warnings about the public sex crackdown, and fair organizers plan to also post an advisory on their Web site.
More of the fair's 265 volunteers will likely be shifted to the security detail, said Moshoyannis, and instructed to explain to participants caught violating the city's laws that after their second infraction, they will be ejected from the fair. The police will be asked to step in on the third offense, he said.
"All of our events are an opportunity for the leather community to come together, share a sense of community, learn from one another, and to some extent, enjoy a sense of sexual freedom. Does that mean public sex? No," said Moshoyannis.
The new rules are no different from what organizers have done in the past, said Moshoyannis, they will just be more publicized.
"I have personally interrupted lewd behavior at the fair many times," he said.
Overall, very few people engage in public sex at the fair, argued Moshoyannis.
"A slightly more aggressive self-policing effort will actually impact very few people, that is the reality of the situation," he said. "By and large, people come to Up Your Alley to enjoy a sense of local leather community. There are opportunities for people to enjoy themselves at the fair in many other ways, including hanging out with friends, having a drink, or watching a flogging session."
He doubted the crackdown would deter people from coming to the event, but said anyone with concerns about the police's new zero-tolerance policy should let city officials know.
"There are lots of things that happen on the fairgrounds that are perfectly acceptable and do not create any controversy for us and SFPD. Those things are going to keep people coming back," he said. "If our community has a problem with this, they can feel free to voice those concerns back to SFPD."