May 27, 2015 at 6:54 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Rehoboth police say crackdown not aimed at gays


Rehoboth Beach, gay news, Washington Blade

Rehoboth Beach police cited six gay men for carrying open containers of alcohol and two for public urination over Memorial Day Weekend. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rehoboth Beach police officers handed out civil citations to six men for carrying open containers of alcoholic beverages and two men for urinating in public during a Memorial Day weekend enforcement action at the popular resort town’s gay beach.

The enforcement action prompted several of the hundreds of mostly gay men who regularly congregate at the south end of the town’s boardwalk known as Poodle Beach to unleash an email campaign aimed at the Rehoboth mayor, Board of Commissioners and other officials.

“[T]he police swarmed the gay beach at the end of Queen Street, conducting arbitrary searches and writing citations,” says one of the emails, which was also sent to news media outlets. “We were left with the impression that our community was selectively targeted,” it says.

The email also says group houses in the town were being unfairly targeted through a newly strengthened noise ordinance by residents “because they do not like vacationers and/or LGBT people.”

Rehoboth Police Chief Keith Banks told the Washington Blade his officers responded to calls from nearby residents about widespread consumption of alcohol on the beach, which is prohibited by another local ordinance, as well as complaints that men were urinating next to nearby sand dunes and in homeowners’ yards where they could be seen by passersby.

“We are here to enforce the rules but we are also here to make sure it’s a safe, enjoyable environment for all,” Banks said. “Everyone is welcome, and I take pride in that. We never, ever try to target anyone.”

Banks said just one noise-related citation was issued to the lease holder of a house near the beach after a neighbor called police three times to complain about noise. He said it was a civil citation, the least serious one under the noise ordinance that carries a $100 fine.

One weekend resident of the house, who spoke to the Blade on condition of not being identified, said it’s a large group house where as many as 20 gay men stay during the summer months.

Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBT advocacy group and community center, said CAMP Rehoboth has worked with Banks and other Rehoboth officials for a long time and nearly all have been supportive of the LGBT community, especially Banks.

“If the city commissioners were homophobic they would never have hired a lesbian city manager,” he said.

Elkins was referring to the hiring last year of out lesbian Sharon Lynn as city manager. Lynn had previously served as city manager of Provincetown, Mass., a popular beach resort town with a large population of LGBT residents and visitors.

Lynn couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“I think it is incorrect to say that gays were singled out,” Elkins told the Blade. “Whether you are gay or straight you can’t pee in people’s yards.”

Noting that the gay beach is located about eight blocks from the closest public bathrooms, Elkins said he favors the placement by the town of one or two portable toilets at the south end of the boardwalk next to the gay beach during daytime hours.

“The state and the commissioners would have to approve that,” he said.

Elkins said he was opposed to the commissioners’ decision earlier this year to strengthen the noise ordinance with the apparent intent of cracking down on large group houses that some nearby residents say create late night noise and neighborhood disturbances.

In an action considered highly controversial, the Commission adopted a new method for measuring noise in residential areas that replaces the use of decibel measuring devices with a “plainly audible standard” that is based on whether any noise coming from one person’s house or yard can be heard by the residents of an adjacent home.

“I don’t agree with the noise ordinance,” Elkins said. “But it is not targeting gays. It’s targeting group houses.”

The email sent to Rehoboth officials and the media was unsigned. Lee Whitman, a D.C. resident and Rehoboth summer vacationer, told the Blade he knows those who wrote the email.

“Among them are doctors, lawyers, a CNN producer, staff members of the Washington Post, members of the current presidential administration, and a three-time Emmy Award winner,” he said in his own email accompanying the one sent to Rehoboth officials. He did not identify them by name.

“We are skilled. We are talented,” he wrote. “And if we continue to feel persecuted we could easily pull every gay dollar from your city. Not just the money from those that were there this weekend, but all gay dollars.”

A separate email sent to the Blade by a gay Rehoboth vacationer, who also asked not to be identified, says he and his partner were present at Poodle Beach on May 24, and they witnessed what he says were many gays acting irresponsibly.

“This past Sunday was unlike any time I’ve ever experienced on Poodle Beach,” he wrote. “In the roughly four hours my partner and I spent on the beach that day, the behavior we witnessed was appalling.”

He said the beach was “trashed” with litter by people who ignored easily accessible trashcans placed on the beach.

“We witnessed guys walking around from gaggle to gaggle carrying full glass liquor bottles, openly,” he said. “We even witnessed guys walking up into the dunes…and urinating in plain view. Not one or two guys, but probably one or two dozen guys.”

According to Banks, “Two people got a citation for urinating in the dunes right in front of the officer while he was trying to clear them out.”

He said officers had responded to calls from one or more homeowners complaining about the urination. While arriving to respond to those calls, Banks said, the officers noticed the public drinking on the beach and called for additional help to respond to that issue.

Another gay man who was at the gay beach at the time, who asked not to be identified, reported seeing officers walking through the beach and approaching people who appeared to be drinking alcohol. Banks said alcohol consumption in all public places in Rehoboth is prohibited by law.

“They went from person to person to anyone drinking out of an unmarked container or cup,” the man said.

The writers of the email sent to Rehoboth officials also claim police may have conducted searches for alcohol and issued citations in parts of Poodle Beach that are outside the Rehoboth city limits.

Banks disputes this claim, saying no citations were given beyond the Rehoboth boundary. He said officers may have issued a warning to people in areas outside the boundary line, which he and city officials say is just south of Penn Street past the end of the boardwalk.

Banks said those caught drinking alcohol or in possession of an open container of booze were given a civil citation carrying a fine of $100.

“The biggest thing we try to get out to all the news media and anybody that wants to listen,” said Banks, “is these were complaints driven, not by the Rehoboth Beach Police Department, not by city officials, but by citizens. In other words, people called our dispatch center for a police officer to respond. And that’s what we did,” he said.

“I’m saddened to hear that some people want to say that it is a gay issue. That’s not what we do here at Rehoboth Beach. We want all people here.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Just pee in the In the ocean

  • I’ve been to Poodle several times, and it’s nothing but loud gays carrying on and drinking. Officials are cracking down in Reho, with a new ordinance and not giving Dog Fish a permit to expand. It has nothing to do with being gay, they don’t want a trashy Dewey Beach.

  • So if citizen complaints are anti-gay, the police just assist homophobic citizens in their anti-gay crusade. That IS discrimination and targeting.

    Funny how Ptown never feels like a police state.

    • If. Big, unsubstantiated if.

      • Substantiated? Nothing in the cop’s statement said anything about even considering whether the complaints are anti-gay. According to him, his sole job is to enable citizen complainers, whatever their motive.

        • I said “unsubstantiated”, not “substantiated”, and your subsequent observations don’t amount to substantiation. Anyway, if you’re a police officer who spends his day responding to complaints and checking out the circumstances that are being complained about, why is it surprising that your focus would be on determining for yourself whether the the complaint is valid (i.e., if someone complained about noise, and you’ve verified that there IS noise above the legal limits) and not on constantly second-guessing the motives behind complaints that are, in fact, valid?

          • Because if you don’t, you allow yourself to become a tool of bigots. Only a fraction of violations are ever subjected to reporting or enforcement. Letting bigots choose who police enforce the law against is passive discrimination.

          • How do you propose that the police officer responding to a specific, legitimate complaint determine whether the person who reported it did so only because of bigotry?

            Or are you suggesting that it doesn’t matter whether a specific complaint is the result of bigotry, and that it only matters that there’s an overall pattern? In that case, if I have noisy neighbors, are you saying I’m not entitled to relief under the law if the noisy neighbors happen to be gay, or black, or whatever, and *other* people who have complained about noise in the past have done so selectively based on bigotry?

            Are you suggesting that if there’s a clear pattern of straight, white people making noise without anyone complaining about them, while gay people or black people who make noise do get complained about, then I, as a police officer, responding to a specific complaint that I find to be valid, may write up the offender only if the offender is straight and white, on the grounds that I am otherwise contributing to racial disparity?

          • See, you do understand the problem. You just prefer to ignore it and be a tool.

          • Please explain how my trying to pin you down on what you think the police officer is supposed to do to solve the problem–without being psychic, without blaming people who aren’t being racist for other people’s racism, without being derelict in his duty to enforce the law–indicates that I prefer to ignore the problem? By the way, *you* haven’t provided an actual solution. You’ve only assigned *blame* for the problem. Now you seem to be patting yourself on the back for that, without seeing any reason why you should propose an actual course of action to *fix* the problem.

          • Please explain how my trying to pin you down on what you think the police officer is supposed to do to solve the problem–without being psychic, without blaming people who aren’t being racist for other people’s racism, without being derelict in his duty to enforce the law–indicates that I prefer to ignore the problem? By the way, *you* haven’t provided an actual solution. You’ve only assigned *blame* for the problem. Now you seem to be patting yourself on the back for that, without seeing any reason why you should propose an actual course of action to *fix* the problem.

            I almost forgot: We don’t even have any evidence whatsoever that the biased treatment you’re assigning blame for even exists.

          • Take it as a compliment that I don’t think you’re dumb and helpless, like you’re pretending to be. The duty to enforce the law includes the equal protection clause too.

            As for police racism, I’ll stop holding all cops accountable for it when cops stop protecting every bigot with a badge.

          • How am I pretending to be dumb? You still haven’t indicated *how* the police officer is supposed to do what you’re calling his “duty”. You can blather on about his “duty” as self-righteously as you want, but if you can’t explain how he’s supposed to exercise that duty in practice, it’s empty pontification.

            Your second paragraph removes from you any standing to criticize anyone else for bigotry, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination of any kind, since you have declared yourself free to indulge in them yourself.

          • Your second paragraph shows you to be a right-wing bigot unworthy of my time.

            Perhaps you are as stupid as you’re acting after all.

          • Every single conclusion you’ve drawn about me is absolutely wrong. The idea that I’m right-wing is laughable. If, by bigot, you mean anti-gay, it’s hilarious, because I’ve been openly gay and an active advocate for equal treatment of LGBT people for over 30 years. In conclusion, your reading comprehension is poor, you have trouble accepting that people can analyze situations in terms other than the terms one expects them to use, stereotypically, based in their identities, and you aren’t qualified to play amateur psychiatrist.

            On top of all that, you still haven’t answered the question of what it is you expect the police officer in our scenario to do, which was the topic at hand. Instead, you’ve spent your time blowing smoke and crafting ad hominem attacks.

          • Valid questions and observations. And yet — the proper job of the police should be protecting life, liberty, and property, not harassing people who some may find annoying but are ultimately harming no one, in order to suck up more revenues for the State.

          • Incidentally, anyone naming himself “heroic” has serious insecurities. I don’t call mocking the equal protection duty “heroic.”

          • And I’ll support you to my last breath when you stop being a whiny b*#ch.

          • You sir are a total a@#hole!

          • Go back to Breitbart and Twitchy, bigot.

          • You like that word “bigot” don’t you…LOL!!!

          • No, I don’t. I wish there were far fewer people like you.

          • …and I wish there were fewer whiny little bit$% like you….

          • Bigot, the slur you’re looking for is “f@ggot,” which is what I am.

          • Hey whatever floats your boat….:)

          • I think blacks “kid” win in the “murdering dept”. Just sayin….

          • If you find complaints to law enforcement about drinking in public while causing problems for no one, urinating in nature when there are no toilets around, or making noise while having a good time at a public beach “valid”, I encourage you to check your premises.

          • Oh poor little boy…..someone got a ticket for pissing and your life falls apart. Oh the humanity. First they came for your beer and then your urine. What’s next??!!!! End of days I tell ya….!

          • That movement called gay equality? Mouthy bigots like you are why it has won.

          • #Freethebeachpissersornopeace

    • guy gets a ticket and suddenly it’s a “police state….G-d talk about acting like a queen……

  • The police aren’t being homophobic, the gays are being drunken assholes….. They deserved what they got. If it was my son I would feel the same way. Yes, we all fight for gay rights, but no one has the right to be an inconsiderate drunken fool…

  • Google Maps suggests Poodle Beach is just outside of Reho police’s jurisdiction. Is that the case? Secondly, I witnessed and recorded a police officer come up to a sober, resting man, wake him up, and pressure him into opening his cooler. The guy should have said no, but didn’t. He had no glass and was violating no law. This is not just gays being whiny. I do agree that urination, glass, and littering is unacceptable.

  • “Among them are doctors, lawyers, a CNN producer, staff members of the Washington Post, members of the current presidential administration, and a three-time Emmy Award winner,” he said in his own email accompanying the one sent to Rehoboth officials. He did not identify them by name.

    Wow, so what this says to me is that these DC people are WAY WAY too important to be bothered with following laws of the little people of Rehoboth- the ones who are here year round. What a big-headed, arrogant, egotistical, and pompous [redundancy intended for emphasis] thing to write. No wonder the author is too embarrassed to reveal their identity. I am embarrassed for the author and the folks he claims he is writing for. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. My response would be- fine! Book that flight and house share in Ptown or elsewhere and leave the peaceful year round folks- and the LGBT guests who RESPECT the laws and the people enjoy a vacation in peace, because guess what? The folks in hotel rooms and smaller quieter homes are the folks with the money…NOT you and your 15 person flop house. BYE FELICIAS!!!

  • This is bullshit! Gay or straight, you piss in someone’s bush, you deserve a ticket. Drink booze on the beach, you deserve a ticket. Being Gay does not excuse poor decisions. Nor, does it allow you to claim being a martyr every time you get caught breaking the law!

    • EXACTLY! Breaking the law is no excuse to pull the gay card out…you broke the law and there are consequences.

    • Why should people be robbed just for enjoying a drink on the beach? It’s a bullshit “law” (unconstitutional statute, actually!) that deserves to be broken. Do you think gay people deserved tickets for sodomy too, when that was “breaking the law”?

  • Really excited to know about the number of regional Emmys someone won. Wow! Talent indeed! Is 2 or 3 the number after which you stop urinating on the property of other people? Was the email actually intended to pursuade anyone or just as an epic joke? The people being accused include lawyers in DC – they’d be the last people who would get drunk, disrespect someone’s property then argue about it. *rolls eyes*

    The scariest thing would be if all these people stayed in DC on a holiday weekend.

  • Funny Sharon Lynn was run out of Ptown just two years ago for many of the same problems. Police targeting the more party interested tourists. This is not homophobia, its a bad town manager who doesn’t like party tourists. I use to work in Ptown and guess what the party boys are also the best spenders! I made really good money at a t shirt shop because those boys like to spend! Not every beach town should cater to families and quiet relaxation. No town needs to deal with a tourist crowd they do not want. However, while I am knew to DC is it me or hasn’t Rehoboth beach been getting these tourists for awhile? This is not new but who knows maybe they just don’t want our money anymore!

  • The noise ordinance is only the beginning. The Mayor recently introduced an ordinance, which he expects to pass at the June 19 meeting, BANNING renters from using the pool at all rental houses, effective Jan. 2018. The noise ordinance and this pool ordinance are in response to a few noise complaints for a specific property that has an owner-occupied pool (which may be the property on New Castle St.; the Mayor lives at 13 New Castle St.). It’s time to contact the Mayor and commissioners on these issues. Public urination is one thing; outlawing fun at a resort community so as not to interrupt a few retired folks’ naps (literally – that was a complaint I heard twice at commissioners’ meetings) is entirely different. There has also been talk of banning rentals entirely.

  • I saw with disgust the guys peeing *everywhere* on the beach/dunes, and it has never been that bad in my 20+ years of going. I’m glad that cracked down on that crap, I saw guys going behind houses without occupants to pee.

  • #thestruggleisreal

  • My husband, a Nobel laureate, and I, an Academy Award winner, witnessed the events on Memorial Day.

    The “swarm” consisted of four police officers who’d probably prefer to do anything besides walking around a beach in those Michael Kors-designed uniforms. They were polite when they talked to alleged offenders.

    The people who were ticketed were amateurs. Really, pouring Svedka vodka straight out of a bottle in the open so everyone can see you don’t drink Grey Goose? And on top of that, you do poppers? And when confronted by the police you deny the cooler containing your Svedka is yours and then spend the rest of the day away from your cooler and other possessions? Amateurs and stupid.

    Rehoboth has to walk a fine line between enforcing the law and not going overboard [I refer to the pool banning ordinance] so as not to screw things up. In this case, I had no issues with the police enforcing the long-standing ordinance against booze on the beach.

    Now about those dog walkers on the boardwalk at 3PM…

    • Sad that you and your husband’s abundant talents are being wasted belittling people on an Internet forum for drinking less expensive vodka than you yourselves enjoy. Why not show some class and hospitality by inviting them over to share a bottle of whatever hoity-toity beverage you prefer, and some better drugs? Would it not be cooler to star in your own bohemian version of one of those Grey Poupon commercials, than to invite comparisons with people who have no issues with other long-standing ordinances, like the ones barring gays from the chapel?

      • To paraphrase Barney Frank:

        “Sir/Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table: I have no interest in doing it.”

  • Gays…..always the victims…..

  • How is it homophobic to enforce laws against open containers of alcohol, public urination and other disgusting habits by drunk ‘residents’ of a beach city? I’m not sure if it makes it better or worse for the city that doctors, lawyers, CNN employees and journalists from the Washington Post and Emmy Award winning gays are involved. Does an Emmy give you the right to pee with reckless abandon? Does a CNN ID card give you an exemption to carrying open containers of alcohol? Forget the doctors and lawyers – they’re lost causes if they’re acting that way.

    • Unless they’ve already had too much to drink, most people do not find open containers of alcohol disgusting. Police officers ticketing people for having a drink at the beach on a nice day — now THAT is disgusting.

  • Sorry, but public urination and carrying open bottles around in an area where public drinking is forbidden is just plain bad behavior. It’s bad behavior regardless of gender, orientation, race, whatever. Attempting to label complaints about drunks pissing in people’s yards or on the dunes, public drunkenness, and loud noisy late night parties as homophobia is pretty odious. There are actually people in that town who live there year around and actually have to go to work in the morning who would like to get some sleep at night.

    • Forbidding public drinking is just plain bad behavior by elected officials — if they cared a whit about freedom, they would know the proper course of action is to hold *individuals* accountable when they harm the person or property of others, instead of persecuting other members of the community by criminalizing harmless fun.

  • Looks like the Politburo doesn’t like to be bothered with laws–or bathrooms.

  • Isn’t there enough actual crime to keep the police in Rehoboth busy? Maybe they have too many officers on their force. Sounds like a few of them should be laid off, and the savings used to invest in a few more public toilets.

  • I don’t think people are reading this correctly. The incidents of public urination were wholly and completely separate from the over-the-top and arbitrary searches of sleeping visitors on the beach. This, too, is separate from the noise issue with one rental house where they were not allowed to have an afternoon BBQ. Please note: the open container law is violated regularly all along the beach and specifically on the drive-on beaches but those areas were not and, to my knowledge, have never been targeted.

  • Telling a resort destination they will withhold their precious “pink pound” (a borrowed British term for gay purchasing power) if they dare enforce their own laws which apply to all people equally is tantamount to bullying. This is so embarrassing to read. “Treat us better than you’d treat anyone else because we erroneously believe to be superior to all you locals and straight vacationers, or we won’t contribute to your economy anymore!” Ever read “Gulliver’s Travels?” You sound like Laputa, going to descend and crush the “less advanced” natives if you don’t receive your tribute. God this is so gross. Grow up.

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