Wilton Manors Residents Complain About Too Much Sex at Colohatchee Park

Michael Rajner didn’t expect to see a man getting a blowjob. It was the middle of the afternoon, and he was at Colohatchee Park walking Gidget, a Yorkie-miniature Schnauzer mix.

But it was impossible to mistake what was happening on the park bench ahead of him: One man was on his knees, and the other one had his pants down.

Rajner, a 45-year-old Wilton Manors resident who chairs the Broward County Human Rights Board and is known for his activism on behalf of the LGBT community, was appalled. “I’m a gay man, and I’m not opposed to people, you know, expressing themselves,” he said. “It’s just that it’s a public park, and it’s right out there, right in your face.”

Since then, he’s been going to city commission meetings to demand that something be done about the amount of sex that goes on in Colohatchee Park, which has been known as a cruising destination for gay men for years. Wilton Manors is the second gayest town in America, so it faces an awkward dilemma. How can it cut down on cruising in order to make sure families and dog walkers feel comfortable while simultaneously preserving the town’s reputation for being open-minded and tolerant of all aspects of gay culture?

For the Wilton Manors Police Department, this has been a challenge for years. Back in 2006, officers began conducting undercover stings as part of Operation Get a Room but stopped not long after a civil rights lawyer raised concerns. (In other cities — most recently Long Beach, California — these tactics have been ruled discriminatory because they target gay men.)

Currently, the department says it has three “action plans” for cracking down on illegal activity in the park, though Operations Commander Gary Blocker declines to divulge them. “Our agency does not view this as an LGBT issue,” he said. “We view this as a right-versus-wrong issue.”

So far this year, he added, police officers have made seven arrests at Colohatchee and issued 42 trespass warnings to individuals believed to be at the park “with ill intent.”

“If residents look at that information, it should show them that our agency is dedicated to improving the quality of life at the park,” he said.

Patrick Cann, the director of Wilton Manors’ Leisure Services Department, believes the solution is to get more people into the park — people who aren’t there for random, anonymous sex, that is. “We’re hoping to get more attendance and more participation from other interest groups,” he explained. After holding a focus group for residents earlier this month, the department came up with a master plan to add boat access, a fitness trail, and an expanded dog park.

Another solution is proposed by a Facebook commenter who says Colohatchee should simply become an “adult” park, since gays pay plenty of taxes in Wilton Manors, and there are already plenty of other parks dedicated to family-friendly forms of recreation. Others have pointed out that by getting all worked up about public decency, residents are starting to sound an awful lot like right-wing Christian groups.

Of course, no one really wants to go on the record as a defender of sex in public parks. 

From Michael Rajner’s point of view, it’s simply unnecessary in this day and age. “We just celebrated the anniversary of Stonewall,” he pointed out. “Back then, gay bars were raided. Sodomy was against the law. There weren’t safe places for us to gather. But we have a plethora of safe places where you, as a gay man, can go in Wilton Manors now.”

Still, even in the age of Grindr, it doesn’t look like Colohatchee Park’s reputation will be changing anytime soon. In the meantime, Rajner has been taking Gidget to the Oakland Park dog park instead, where he says he’s less likely to encounter any lewd behavior — at least from humans. When he walked a friend’s dog there the other day, three others immediately tried to mount her.
KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.