Memphis Picnic Area

in Meeting Places

Memphis Picnic Area was a popular gay men’s cruising destination. Since the early 1970s, gay men have used the Cleveland Metroparks’ public parks to cruise for consensual sex, company, and companionship with other gay men. Through the wooded Cleveland Metroparks offered gay men privacy conducive to intimate encounters, they were also sites of potential danger. Gay men cruising in the parks sometimes encountered homophobic violence or harassment from other parkgoers. Though the Cleveland Metroparks were popular hookup destinations for individuals of all genders and orientations (including heterosexual couples), by the early 1970s Cleveland Metroparks rangers set their sights on combatting what they perceived to be an epidemic of “homosexual activity” across the Cleveland Metroparks.

Profiling and Entrapment in the Metroparks

In 1976, reports emerged that Cleveland Metroparks rangers had begun to surveille and entrap gay men throughout various Cleveland Metropolitan park districts, namely South Chagrin Reservation and Rocky River Reservation. Metroparks entrapment continued into the 1980s as rangers continued to intentionally target and arrest gay men cruising (or, sometimes, simply being present) at Rocky River Reservation and the Memphis Picnic Area in Big Creek Reservation. By the 1990s, Metroparks rangers’ entrapment campaigns had expanded to well-known cruising spots throughout Rocky River Reservation, Edgewater Park, North Chagrin Reservation, South Chagrin Reservation, and Euclid Creek Metropolitan Park in an attempt to fully “eliminate homosexual behavior from the parks.”

Entrapment cases generally involved “arrests by undercover [Metroparks] agents in late model cars or vans who sat in parking lots near men’s restrooms” pretending to cruise the parks. In the majority of entrapment cases, plainclothes Metroparks rangers intentionally solicited sex from parkgoing men they suspected to be gay. If the entrapment target accepted the ranger’s verbal offers or acted on his physical advances, they would subsequently be arrested on charges of “public indecency, sexual imposition, importuning, and disorderly conduct.” Some of the men targeted, however, were arrested even if they had dismissed or flat-out rejected the rangers’ entrapment attempts. Other gay men were arrested for simply “using a public toilet in a [park] restroom with no stall doors.” Fearing the potential consequences of “exposing themselves to publicity, further embarrassment, and [the] loss of [their] jobs or families” were to fight their cases in court, many entrapped men pled guilty to the charges leveraged against them. Though the GEAR Foundation, Midwest Regional DRS, Maryann Finegan Anti-Violence Project, and LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland attempted to combat entrapment cases between the 1970s-early 2000s, Metroparks entrapment remained prevalent into the early 2000s.

Additional information coming soon.


Resources

  • “Beware: Metro Parks Entrapment.” High Gear. August 1976. Page 1.
  • “Big Creek Reservation.” Cleveland Metroparks.
  • Callender, Charles. “Metroparks Still Harass Gay Men.” Gay People’s Chronicle. October 1985. Page 3.
  • Craven, Ishmael. “Entrapped!” High Gear. December 1976. Page 13.
  • Daroff, Rob. “Metroparks Entrapment Continues.” Gay People’s Chronicle. August 1985. Page 8.
  • Eaton, Anthony T. “The History and Evolution of Cruising.” The Georgia Voice. December 21, 2013.
  • Glassman, Anthony. “With Warm Weather, Park Cruising Arrests Return.” Gay People’s Chronicle. May 18, 2001.
  • Harris, Marne. “Metroparks Officials Meet With Gays on Entrapment.” Gay People’s Chronicle. April 1991. Page 1, 7.
  • “It’s Not the Sex, it’s the Unequal Enforcement.” Gay People’s Chronicle. April 1991. Page 2.
  • Leach, Dawn. “Metropark Rangers Step Up ‘Public Indecency’ Arrests.” Gay People’s Chronicle. May 2, 1997. Page 1, 6.
  • Leach, Dawn. “Park Rangers Said to be Entrapping Gays.” Gay People’s Chronicle. August 29, 1997. Page 1, 9.
  • “Memphis Picnic Area.” Cleveland Metroparks.
  • Nosek, John, and Leon Stevens. “Gay Community 1970s.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  • Nosek, John. “Metroparks Entrapment: A Follow-Up.” High Gear. October 1976. Page 14.
  • “Police Told to Stop Taking Names in Parks.” Plain Dealer. November 1, 1992.
  • Pontoni, Martha. “Rep. Cain Discusses Arrests at Edgewater Park.” Gay People’s Chronicle. March 1991. Page 1.
  • Thoma, Pauline. “Gays Charge Parks Police Harass Them.” Plain Dealer. March 8, 1991.
  • “Warning.” High Gear. June 1977. Page 1.
Memphis Picnic Area Trail, Brooklyn, OH 44144 (Memphis Picnic Area).

Tell us about Memphis Picnic Area

Many of the locations documented on Queer Cleveland are not well-documented in the historical record. If you have additional information about Memphis Picnic Area, please let us know by sharing a memory, correction, or suggestion using the comment form below.

Or send an email to info@queerclevelandhistories.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *