Activists to hold rally at Brooklyn federal court to denounce Rentboy.com arrests

By LOUIS FLORES

Activists will hold a rally on Thursday, September 3, at noon outside the U.S. District Court House, where prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Rentboy.com executives and employees.

The rally, set to take place at 225 Cadman Plaza East in downtown Brooklyn, is just one block north of the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district, headed by Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie, who is leading the charge in the Rentboy.com case.

 

Since the federal crackdown on Rentboy.com was publicly announced, advocates within New York's LGBT, social services, and public health communities have expressed outrage at the appearance of selective prosecution of the LGBT community and of sex workers.

"We've signed onto a letter calling upon the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in Brooklyn to drop the charges against Rentboy.com," Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, said in a statement to Progress Queens, adding, "We support the decriminalization of prostitution, and we're concerned about the stigmatization and persecution of sex workers, especially LGBT sex workers." 

The text of the letter, received by Progress Queens, stated :

We call upon the US Attorney for the Eastern District in Brooklyn to drop the charges against Rentboy.com, allow them to re-open their service, and for all government authorities to end the harassment, arrest, prosecution and incarceration of sex workers—often for just walking down the street in possession of condoms.  This selective enforcement has fallen particularly hard on gay and transgender people of color and must stop now.

The call for the decriminalization of sex work has just been made by Amnesty International, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center.  We endorse that call and demand changes in course now from US Attorney for the Eastern District Kelly T. Currie, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and Mayor Bill de Blasio to end the persecution and endangerment of sex workers.

Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie is the nation's top federal prosecutor for New York's eastern district.  U.S. Attorney Currie heads the office of federal prosecutors, who have filed criminal charges against Rentboy.com officials, triggering an angry backlash from New York's LGBT, social services, and public health communities.  Source :  U.S. Department of Justice/Official Photograph

Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie is the nation's top federal prosecutor for New York's eastern district.  U.S. Attorney Currie heads the office of federal prosecutors, who have filed criminal charges against Rentboy.com officials, triggering an angry backlash from New York's LGBT, social services, and public health communities.  Source :  U.S. Department of Justice/Official Photograph

The Harm Reduction Coalition, a group of advocates fighting for public health policy reform, has issued a statement, denouncing the arrests and expressing concern over the prosecution of sex workers.  Numerous other LGBT or social service groups have also criticized the Rentboy.com arrests.

Requests for comment made to the press offices of each of the New York City Hall and the New York Police Department were not immediately answered.

Keith Gemerek, a member of the working group of activists, who are planning Thursday's rally, said that there were issues larger than the Rentboy.com arrests that are bringing activists together.

"The decriminalization of sex work, in general, is the focus," Mr. Gemerek said, adding that, "but the Rentboy.com case is the rallying call."

Mr. Generek also said that the working group will be demanding a meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York) to demand answers to various questions, including demands to know why the New York City police are coöperating with federal authorities to arrest and prosecute sex workers when there is an international movement to decriminalize sex work.

As noted by many, the international human rights group, Amnesty International, recently joined a global effort to decriminalize sex work.

Other activists are also demanding to know why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is even bothering with investigating sex workers in New York City when they are nominally tasked with fighting terrorism.  Since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not been fighting any real terrorists on U.S. soil, some activists believe that the federal agency is trying to justify its bloated budget and its dragnet approach to the war on terror by becoming involved in New York's irresistible red light gaiety.

A list of questions prepared by Progress Queens and forwarded by e-mail to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was not immediately answered.  If any response is received, that information will appear in a subsequent report.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district had no comment to make in response to either the growing complaints by the LGBT community over the selective arrests and prosecution of Rentboy.com officials or the graphic use of language in the Rentboy.com complaint.

Prosecutor's graphic complaint in Rentboy.com case harks back to lurid Starr Report

Shortly after it was publicly released over the Internet, the federal criminal complaint in the Rentboy.com case was noted for its graphic language.

"The criminal complaint is so saturated with sexually explicit details, it’s hard not to interpret it as an indictment of gay men as being sexually promiscuous," wrote the normally patrician members of the Editorial Board of The New York Times in an editorial published late on Friday.

The noted use of graphic sexual descriptions in the Rentboy.com criminal complaint are reminiscent of the lurid language in the Starr Report, the infamous investigation into former U.S. President Bill Clinton's extramarital affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.  At the time of its release, the Starr Report was described by Anne Hull in an article published by The St. Petersburg Times as, "dime store erotica, highly footnoted."

Acting U.S. Attorney Currie's case against Rentboy.com rests on the overuse of sexual details in the Rentboy complaint, and the Rentboy.com criminal complaint comes close to mirroring former Clinton special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's obsession with sex in the Starr Report.

For example, one extremely kinky passage in Section III. F. of the Starr Report documented one sexual dalliance between former President Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky.

At one point, the President inserted a cigar into Ms. Lewinsky's vagina, then put the cigar in his mouth and said: "It tastes good."(273)  After they were finished, Ms. Lewinsky left the Oval Office and walked through the Rose Garden.(274)

In the Rentboy complaint, by comparison, federal investigators similarly focused on lurid sexual details about the Rentboy.com business, such as the preferences that Web site users were able to choose amongst anatomical features, such as "Foreskin," "Cock Size," and "Build."  Site users could also choose to describe their sexual interests amongst such categories as "Watersports," which is code for piss-play ; "Fisting," or the use of a man's fist to penetrate a sexual partner's anus ; and "PNP," or the interest in using drugs before or during sexual intercourse, amongst other categories.  Other details about site users included one user's preference for using both a "sex sling" and a "rimchair," with graphic descriptions of each.  Susan Ruiz, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who signed her name to the complaint, wrote that :

Based on my investigation, I have learned that a sling, also known as a "sex sling," is a device that allows two people to have sex while one is suspended and a rimchair is a seat resembling a raised toilet seat designed so that the anus is accessible while someone is sitting on the seat.  I have also learned that "rimming" refers to touching the tongue to the anus.

Over a decade after Mr. Starr issued his report on the Lewinsky affair, he was still described by some as a "sex-obsessed pornographer" over his determination to include "every last sordid detail about Bill Clinton's extra-marital activities" in his report, as noted by Richard Connelly in a report published by The Houston Press.

Acting U.S. Attorney Currie spent his formative young-adult years studying in the South, where he attended the University of Virginia for both his undergraduate and his law school degrees, according to his profile on the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.  Three of the four universities Mr. Starr attended were also in the repressive South.

To some activists, Acting U.S. Attorney Currie's crackdown on LGBT sex workers resembles that of right wing homophobes.

For it's part, the New York City police department have a history of sexual orientation and gender identity profiling.  During the Bloomberg administration, the NYPD led an effort to entrap middle-aged men in gay bookstores on trumped-up prostitution charges.  During the Giuliani administration, the NYPD engaged in a puritanical crack-down on adult businesses.  And since the Bloomberg administration and continuing into the de Blasio administration, the police have stopped and frisked  trans* women, especially trans* women of color, and arresting women and trans* women if they carry forms of birth control, particularly condoms, in blatant violation of the U.S. Supreme Court case in Griswold v. Connecticut, where the nation's top court ruled that the use of birth control was subject to a right to privacy and could not be criminalized. 

Reference Documents