Jim Oliver can’t look at the boulders now blocking access to one of Victoria’s popular gay cruising areas without getting angry.
The parks department rolled the boulders into place in September. Now they’re blocking access to a parking lot in Beacon Hill Park, where gay men like to meet for sex in the bushes.
Oliver has no doubt the boulders are an intentional attempt to deter the cruisers. It’s just the latest round in the city’s ongoing effort to weed gay sex out of Beacon Hill’s bushes, he says.
In the last five years, the parks department has also removed bushes and trees in the area to “thin things out,” Oliver adds.
An internal city hall memo leaked to Xtra West seems to back up Oliver’s claims.
“The vehicle access to the north end of ‘Lover’s Lane’ has today been closed permanently (to vehicles) as another effort to thwart unsavory activity in this area of our beautiful park,” the memo reads.
Parks department manager Joe Daly won’t confirm the memo’s authenticity. “I can’t verify or not verify that,” he says.
But he will confirm that parks employees put the boulders in place to make the area more attractive to “the wide gamut of people who use that park.”
Though he says he hasn’t heard any of his colleagues discussing efforts to curb ‘unsavory activity,’ Daly says he has received calls from people complaining about gay sex in the area.
He points to one call in particular from a woman who claims she walked by the cruising area with her child and stumbled upon two men having sex. “It’s pretty traumatizing,” Daly says.
But he doesn’t think the boulders are targeting anyone, he hastens to add.
Kevin Begg doesn’t buy it. He works with Men at Peers, a support group for male sex workers in Victoria. This is a question of morality, Begg says. The parks department thinks gay park sex is immoral, so it brought in boulders to try to slow it down.
But it’s not going to work, he adds. Men are still cruising in the park. They can still access the paths behind the boulders and they are still having sex there and in other areas of Beacon Hill Park.
That might come as a disappointment to the authors of last year’s Beacon Hill Park Management Plan. The plan points to the main cruising area as a site of unacceptable “illegal activities” and suggests they should be stopped.
When asked what illegal activity the plan is referring to, Daly says he doesn’t know. Might be drugs, he speculates.
At this stage, the boulders are only temporary. Daly says he hasn’t received any complaints about them yet. If no one objects within the next few months, he says the parks department will likely rip up the whole parking lot and re-plant the area. That would be in keeping with the department’s goal to restore nature to as many paved areas of the park as possible, he adds.
Daly says he would like to hear from the gay community if anyone has any objections to the boulders.
Begg, for one, notes they get in the way of his outreach project.
Park sex isn’t immoral, he says. As long as everyone involved consents, “who is it hurting?” he asks. “I don’t believe that sex of any kind is immoral.”
MEN AT PEERS.