In the summer of 1962, the Mansfield, Ohio Police Department set up a sex sting filming men having sex in a public restroom under the main square of the city. A cameraman hid in a closet and filmed the clandestine activities through a two-way mirror. The police filmed over a three-week period, and the resulting movie was used to obtain the convictions of over 38 local men on charges of sodomy.
All of the 38 men were convicted of sodomy. They were publicly humiliated and found themselves ensnared by the state’s Ascherman Act, which ordered all felons deemed a danger to society to be institutionalized for a potentially indefinite period; all were required to serve the minimum sentence, even those judged by medical professionals to be “cured” prior to that time. Treatment then involved a number of now-discredited methods, including electroshock and various other aversion therapy techniques, and drugs with known severe side effects. After their release few recovered from the trauma and many were ostracized from families and friend and some committed suicide. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association struck homosexuality from its list of mental disorders; until that moment, the psychiatric profession had essentially lent its tacit endorsement to these laws and practices.
After the arrests, the restroom below Mansfield’s Central Park was closed to the public and, in a gesture more superstitious than practical, it was filled in with dirt and covered up.
The footage itself is chilling and stark. One must always remember that it was not only the fact that these men were having sex in a public bathroom that got them arrested. It was the fact that they were gay. The sex act on film was the evidence. With some of the footage the Mansfield Police even went so far to produce Camera Surveillance, an instructional film circulated in law enforcement circles. It showed how to set up a sting operation to film and arrest the criminal “sex deviants.”
David Herkt sums up the pathos:.
The video documents a straight-laced America of button-up shirts, horn-rimmed glasses and ubiquitous cigarettes where fleeting moments of sexual expression can be experienced in hidden places but within a context of fear. Even during the sex-acts, the eyes of these men are often focused on the restroom doors and the possibility of an intrusion that could mean arrest and imprisonment. There is an urgency of need for contact that overcomes the weight of law and self but cannot quite overcome the awareness of possible consequences.
There is also a poignancy as each of the men is observed – smoking, washing hands, straightening attire in a mirror, involved in brief sexual contact, wiping semen from the floor – because, for them, these moments mark their last instants of freedom from restraint by the state or confinement in a treatment facility.
Even now over 55 years later 18 out of the 50 United States still have sodomy laws on the books and use the same techniques as in Mansfield to persecute and prosecute homosexual men.
William E. Jones found a degraded version of the police tapes used in the prosecution of these of the men involved that was also sent out to other police departments in the United States as a “how to” trap sexual deviants. The film has been restored and serves as a shocking reminder of our past.
WARNING: The video below is EXTREMELY NSWF and is used here for historical and educational reference only