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Entrapment Operations in San Antonio Parks: a new collection donated by San Antonio activist Michael McGowan

August 26, 2013

“I am primarily concerned with this grieving family in my parish, with the fact that we have lost such a wonderful man, and the news media played such an important part in driving him to suicide. There is no question but that his learning that his name had been published was the direct cause of his jumping off a bridge. . . .I also would say very strongly that a society that pays its policemen to spend hours on their haunches or lying prostrate on the top of a building peering through a hole to spy on men is a very sick society.”[1] This excerpt from an anonymous letter that appeared in a 1966 issue of Christianity and Crisis  captured the devastation exacted on men who were caught having sex in public restrooms and had their names published in the newspaper after being arrested. Sting operations by law enforcement officials against homosexuals in public places were nothing new. In San Antonio, police had been ferreting out gay cruisers in Travis Park–located in the heart of the city–since the 1940s.[2] But were undercover operations and demonization of those caught in the web of such actions indicative only of the era that predated Stonewall in which homosexual harassment was part and parcel of urban life?

Marquise July 1994

Marquise July 1994, UTSA Libraries Special Collections GLBTQ publications digital collection

Sadly, such tragedies did not cease in the wake of gay liberation. In 1994, a San Antonio man named Benny Hogan, met a similar fate. On May 19, 1994 Hogan was enticed by an undercover police officer into allegedly exposing himself in a secluded area of McAllister park in suburban San Antonio. The officer arrested him on charges of indecent exposure. On June 2, the San Antonio Express-News released Hogan’s name along with the names of men who were arrested for public lewdness or indecent exposure. The names of other offenders who had been charged with offenses such as disorderly conduct, possession of illegal substances, or speeding were not on the list. The Express-News chose to make an example of “homosexuals.” Any man trapped in the net of police stings in the city’s parks was branded a sexual deviant and publicly exposed on the pages of the newspaper.

The day his name was listed in the paper, Hogan was fired from his job at USAA. During the next two days, Hogan moved down the road toward ending his life; He called his mother and close friends, paid off all his bills, and arranged for the adoption of his dogs. On June 5, Benny Hogan hung himself in his garage. Ted Switzer, managing editor of the Marquise, one of San Antonio’s LGBTQ publications of the 1990s, expressed the gay community’s outrage at the tragedy:  “While 12,000 of us were together at the Gay Pride Picnic celebrating the social and political gains of the 25 years since Stonewall, Benny Hogan, closeted and all alone, killed himself. Hogan was the victim of the San Antonio Exprerss-News  selective policy of publishing articles about ‘park stings’ . . . and printing the names of those arrested.[3]

The tragic death of Benny Hogan did not halt police and park ranger stings in San Antonio parks. Nor did it alter the Express-News’ policy of naming names of those arrested for lewd behavior. Acting on citizen complaints, San Antonio law enforcement agents continued undercover operations with the blessing of city officials and by the late 1990s, hundreds of men had been entrapped, booked, hauled off to jail, their names revealed, their secrets exposed.

The Entrapment Operations in San Antonio Parks Collection donated by former LGBT activist Michael McGowan chronicles this chapter in San Antonio’s history. McGowan assembled the materials while serving on the board of directors of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center San Antonio during the late 1990s through the early 2000s. Highlights of the collection include San Antonio park ranger incident reports for scores of men arrested during entrapment operations. Internal memoranda from the San Antonio Police Department, the mayor’s office, and local officials cover park ranger training, citizen complaints about illicit activities in San Antonio parks, and efforts to stop these activities. Also included are court records from individual cases that received assistance from the Liberty Legal Defense Fund founded by the  Gay and Lesbian Community Center San Antonio. The collection has been arranged into the following series:  correspondence, court records, Liberty Legal Defense Fund, San Antonio Police department records, news clippings, and assorted materials. Many items in the collection are available digitally and can be accessed by selecting “view contents” links in the finding aid.

Sexual Activity in McAllister Park memorandum, June 2, 1995

Sexual Activity in McAllister Park memorandum, June 2, 1995

Letter to Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Susan Reed from Michael McGowan

Letter to Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Susan Reed from Michael McGowan, undated

The Entrapment Operations in San Antonio Parks Collection is housed on UTSA’s main campus and can be viewed at the Special Collections reading room in the John Peace Library by requesting access to the collection.

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[1] “Excerpt from an anonymous letter in the ‘Correspondence’ column of Christianity and Crisis,” in Tearoom Trade by Laud Humphreys (Aldine Transaction:  New Brunswick and London, 1970), 81.

[2] Melissa Gohlke, Out in the Alamo City:  Revealing San Antonio’s Gay and Lesbian Past, World II to the 1990s, (Master’s thesis, the University of Texas at San Antonio, 2012), 27-28.

[3]Ted Switzer, “Does the Express-News Have Blood on Its Hands?,” the Marquise, July 1994, 12-13.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2013 10:21 am

    Thanks for making this evil practice public knowledge. It reminds us how the media has been used by bigots, politicians and law enforcement trying to justify their wasting time on easy arrests instead of serious crime.

    • July 27, 2014 1:29 pm

      Hello Bill, Would happen to know of any attorneys in the San Antonio area that could help defend someone in this type of situation as in this post?

  2. July 27, 2014 1:27 pm

    Melissa, I have a friend in a very similar situation as in your story. Can you recommend any attorneys in the San Antonio area to help defend?

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