On the Importance of Catching Deviates at the Bus Station

With the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in mind, we pulled this article out of our Annals of Insanity folder.  Published in the Los Angeles Times on December 29th, 1965 — almost exactly 45 years ago — the news item reports on a controversial program of the Tallahassee police force to use college students to inform on gay men.  For weeks before the report, Tallahasseans had heard rumors of a police program to employ students as spies on local “deviates.”  The police chief, Frank Stoutamire, confirmed reports, saying that students were paid $10 a piece and worked in “teams” of two or three, mostly around the city’s bus station — “a popular hangout for homosexuals,” according to the paper.

University officials were not pleased.  While the dean of students at Florida State acknowledged that stopping homosexuality was of prime social importance, he objected to police methods.  “As great as the need may be to expose sexual deviates, the procedure of involving college students in the process seems altogether wrong,” Dr. Harry Day said.  “It is hoped this practice will not be continued.”  The chairman of the university’s board of regents said the university should approve any police work that students might be hired to do.

Police responded that the tactics were necessary if law enforcement were to “apprehend homosexuals who prey on young people.”  The informants never deliberately entrapped the deviates, of course, but instead waited for the suspects to approach them with “a firm offer to commit an obscene act.”  The police promised that informers are mostly over the age of 20, and “mature, sound, trustworthy youths.”  In fact, they didn’t get paid unless the suspect they informed on was ultimately convicted; being paid on commission, informers had an incentive for accuracy.

“Ten arrests have been made in the past three months,” the Times reported.

Author: Alex Sayf Cummings

Alex Sayf Cummings is an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, whose work deals with technology, law, public policy, and the political culture of the modern United States. Alex's writing has appeared in Salon, the Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, Al Jazeera, and Southern Cultures, among other publications, and the book Democracy of Sound was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 (paperback, 2017). Alex can be followed on Twitter at @akbarjenkins.

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