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Police in North London have fined several men cruising for gay sex on Hampstead Heath for violating COVID-19 social distancing rules.
Police responded after members of the public reported men engaging in sexual acts on the Heath, which has long been known as a gay cruising spot. The officers issued fines for breaching COVID-19 lockdown rules.
According to PinkNews, police consulted with the Peter Tatchell Foundation, an LGBTQ rights group, about the incident, a tacit acknowledgement of the historically hostile relationship between police and gay men who have been targeted for arrest at cruising spots.
“The police have made it clear to us that they do not proactively patrol the Heath, but only act in response to public complaints,” Peter Tatchell, the group’s director, said in a statement. “We are urging gay and bisexual men to ‘play safe’: have fun but protect yourself and your partners by following the COVID lockdown rules. We also advise against having sex in circumstances where you might be seen by members of the public and cause them offense.
“We are living through a major health emergency and it is imperative that our community does what it can to limit the spread of COVID and save lives,” Tatchell added.
Police have assured the foundation they will not penalize late-night sexual behavior that is not visible to the public. The primary concern is the danger cruising may post to public health by facilitating the spread of COVID-19 if there are too many people congregating in the same area and not socially distancing.
The foundation suggested police — not only in North London, but throughout the United Kingdom — post signs to inform the public about the penalty for cruising in public, which will also alert closeted or isolated members of the LGBTQ community who do not regularly interact with LGBTQ media.
“We don’t want to see gay and bisexual men breaking the rules, putting themselves and others at risk and getting fined,” Tatchell added.
Hampstead Heath, along with the rest of London and much of southeastern England, is under “Tier Four” restrictions, under which people can visit an outdoor public place only with their household, support bubble, or with one other person “if you maintain social distancing.”
The fine in England for breaking COVID-19 protocols is 200 pounds, or about $271 in American dollars; doubling on subsequent offenses until reaching a maximum of 6,400 pounds, or the equivalent of $8,670. Fines are still imposed, but are lower in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. For gatherings of more than 30 people, government authorities say police can issue fines of 10,000 pounds, or the equivalent of $13,457.
This story was updated to include corrected fine amounts, and their dollar equvalents, being levied against men cruising for sex in Hampstead Heath.
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