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Criticism of coverage in Manhattan Beach gay sex sting goes national

Suddenly, the story of a gay sex sting that nabbed 18 men in Manhattan Beach has become less about the arrests themselves and more about the coverage of the story.

As we reported last week, the men were arrested in a beachside men’s room, over a period of a few days, for allegedly engaging in lewd acts in a public place. Lifeguards had noticed that the place was being used for sexual encounters and informed police, who put a stop to it by sending in male undercover officers.

So far so good. But then the Manhattan Beach Police Department decided to release detailed information on the arrested men -- names, cities of residence, dates of birth and high-resolution mug shots -- and local news outlets gleefully republished the information, effectively “outing” the men forever.

That’s when the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center stepped in, expressing outrage that police and local media “would choose to publish the mug shots, names and birthdates of people charged with victimless crimes, simply because the charges are salacious or related to gay sex.” They added that “Publishing their photos serves no purpose other than to humiliate and destroy their lives,” and called on editors “to immediately remove the images and names” from websites. And a brouhaha ensued.


L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center decries sex-sting coverage

Manhattan Beach restroom

California Pete / Flickr

A restroom on the beach on Manhattan Beach

Some were taken aback at how eagerly certain media outlets, abetted by the Manhattan Beach Police Department, published detailed personal information on the 18 men accused of engaging in consensual-but-illegal sex in a public restroom.

Guilty or not, the men, all of whom had been swept up in a recent sting operation by Manhattan Beach police, were listed in a PDF file by the MBPD, along with date of birth, city of residence and high-res mug shots -- which CBS Los Angeles (KCBS and KCAL) then helpfully reposted online in its entirety. Similarly, the hometown Daily Breeze posted small versions of the arrestees’ mug shots but linked to the high-res ones, plus listed their names in a long paragraph -- the better to show up in future Google searches.

Reactions to those stories were mixed, judging from reader comments, but in a statement released Wednesday, members of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center did not mince words in expressing their outrage.