With so many gay and lesbian travelers visiting South Florida at this time of year, it is time for me to switch hats, play the role of criminal defense attorney, and publish my annual cautionary guide to tourists.
I realized this last week after a French tourist spent an evening in the Fort Lauderdale Jail only hours after arriving in town. He and a bunch of his friends went to a local gay nightclub to have some drinks, and began soliciting a bartender for some ‘party’ cocktails. But they were overheard by an undercover police officer conducting a separate investigation. Bad timing.
The undercover officer offered to help, and he did, being the nice police officer that he was. He wound up driving our French Guest to the Broward County Jail on a charge of attempting to purchase cocaine.
In many of our nightclubs, you will find not only incredibly good-looking men, but also a wealth of illegal party favors. In Florida, it is a felony in Florida to possess, use or sell Special K, Ecstasy, GHB, crystal meth, cocaine, and even marijuana. It is not a legal requirement that you do these illegal substances in order to have fun on South Beach. Sorry to be the spoilsport, but if you do, you may wind up going from a circuit party to circuit court.
You certainly don’t want to carry illegal drugs in your car. If you do, and the cops find them, they have a right to seize the car, impound it, and not return it to you. If you own the car, they can institute forfeiture proceedings against it. In Florida as well, a drug conviction means you can lose your driver’s license for two years as well.
Many foreign tourists are also unaware that the latitude given sexuality in Europe is not extended to South Florida venues. What is mild in France may be a misdemeanor in Fort Lauderdale. Cops make lewd act arrests here. You can order a ‘sex on the beach’ from a bartender in South Beach but don’t have sex on the beach at 21st street beach in South Beach. That’s a no-no.
As a matter of fact, the plain-clothes police cruise some of the very favorite haunting grounds for local gays as well. So if you are encouraged to check out the gay scene at John U. Lloyd State Park Beach in Dania, keep in mind that it is a public, not a pubic park- because the undercover cops that hang there are cruising for arrests, not dates.
There are places like Haulover Beach in North Miami where you can get fully nude, but that does not allow you the right to noontime seaside sexual intercourse. Anonymous sex can be very intoxicating, but if you try it on some of South Florida's beaches, it can also be very incarcerating. What can I say? Cops are on a crusade to prevent the republic from being taken over by horny nude gay men.
Wilton Manors guests and residents should be aware that remote police surveillance cameras monitor Colahatchee Park. It is a dog park, a public park, and your park. It is not a bathhouse. Arrests of gay men in this park are routine and have been going on for years. Police are not selling the videos as part of a gay travel brochure.
A lot of Europeans who are used to urinals on city streets find the lack of them frustrating in South Florida. But before you let yourself go on one of our streets, you should know that urinating in public is not only an arrest-able offense, it gives cops a legal reason to do a more extensive search of your person and property.
Seasonally, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and numerous police agencies conduct DUI task forces on neighborhood streets and local highways. Cops cruise gay venues the way you would Tom Cruise. Look, some of these guys in uniform may want hot dates, but a lot more are just waiting for you to speed out of a parking lot and give them a reason to pull you over. Don’t.
The last thing you want on holiday is to find yourself standing on the side of a street before a battery of flashing lights doing roadside sobriety tests. Drink moderately, and keep a designated driver handy. If you all want to party, Yellow Cabs are clean, friendly, and moderately priced. Keep the number 954-777-7777 very, very handy. It’s cheaper than bond and a DUI lawyer- even though we like the work.
Everyone wants a little legal advice so yes, it’s probably wise not to take a breath test if you have been drinking. It’s definitely even more important to remind you not to ask the cop hold your beer while you search for your license. By the way, open containers of alcoholic beverages are also illegal in vehicles.
The rules in Key West are a lot more open than in Fort Lauderdale or Miami. After all, as the Conch Republic, it is its own nation. Numerous guesthouses offer optimum gay privacy rights, and besides, the T-shirts are much better. In fact, I think the only restriction in Key West is that you have to clean up after yourself if you throw up drunk on Duval Street. The private lap top dances at Bourbon Street will get you an erection, not a cellblock number.
So enjoy your stay in Fort Lauderdale, Miami or Key West. Have a great time. But please, if you return, make sure it isn't because you had to hire a criminal defense attorney like myself today in order to represent you tomorrow.
The South Florida sun tans well. But don’t let it burn you. Be careful. Don't come to Florida on vacation and go home on probation.