Cruising in City Park

Street Address : 50 Bagot St

Cruising areas have been an important element of Kingston’s gay life, functioning as a gateway into Kingston’s gay male subculture. Since at least the 1940s, City Park, also known as “Pervert Park”, has been the most prominent cruising area. Many men actually found out about the park through homophobic comments made by straight people. Although the “pervert” in the park was understood by women to refer to the occurrence of sexual assaults perpetrated by straight men, for gay men the “pervert” was a reference to themselves.

Until the mid-1970s, the park was full of large bushes and trees, offering an anonymous space for those seeking immediate sex, and the park was busy from dusk until early morning. Trevor recalls, “Growing up in Kingston I’d hear about it, so I just went over one night and realized there were a lot of men driving and walking around. It was a long time before I worked up the nerve to talk to anyone….if you were there after midnight, chances were you were gay. You’d go and say ‘hello’ to someone, like meeting any stranger anyplace, or if you were with someone you’d get introduced. Then you could get invited to parties, get into a social scene.”

As Trevor’s comment suggests, the park was used in different ways by different segments of the gay population, ranging from anonymous sexual encounters or pick-ups to friendship and community. Howard, who had also spent time cruising Toronto’s parks, noticed that Kingston’s City Park was far more social. Lacking the high profile gay bars and political organizations of the big city, ‘Pervert Park’ was one of the few easily identifiable public spaces where gay men could congregate.

As Trevor explains, “…right there, on the road, there always used to be a group of ten to fifteen, I’ve seen forty, gay men, late at night, socializing, having a party, sitting around talking. Now this was the late seventies and everyone who wanted–there was no place to go, there was no bars–so on a weekend that’s where people would meet to socialize and party and they’d park their cars there and everything else. A good group from all over, and then if they wanted to do some cruising they would wander further down into the park. They’d wander back and come to talk to everyone.”

There were many gay men, however, who actively chose to avoid the park. Some associated the park with casual anonymous sex, which didn’t interest them, but some were afraid of being recognized by someone they knew. The notoriety of the park also made men in the park obvious targets of homophobic violence. John, who did not use the park for cruising, describes being gay-bashed as he walked through the park on his way home from music practice: “A bunch of thugs came yelling out from the bushes as I was walking through on the sidewalk, behind the bushes, screaming ‘get the faggot with the violin!’ and I screamed back ‘It’s a viola you assholes!’ and took off like a shot. I was scared.”

The fact that many men would go to great lengths to avoid any publicity concerning their sexuality made them vulnerable because they would be less likely to report attacks, and indeed police harassment was another fact of life for gay men in the 1970s. Although police raids and entrapment frequently targeted gay men in large cities like Toronto from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Kingston police were more likely to be indifferent or half-hearted in their reactions to cruising.

In the 1970s, the combination of increasing Gay Pride and Dutch Elm disease permanently altered the use of City Park as a cruising spot. By 1974-75, all of the elm trees in the park had died and the city cleared out over 100 dead trees, at the same time cutting down many of the bushes. This altered the park’s landscape from that of a virtual forest to the open area that still exists today, a fact which drastically reduced the cover offered for sexual activity. At the same time, the increased number of “out” men increased the visibility of the park as a “gay” space, reducing its popularity with “closeted” men. Although cruising remains a practice for both gay men and men who have sex with men (but may not identify as gay), City Park is no longer the hub of this activity.

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