SAN LEANDRO, Calif., June 13 (UPI) -- The city of San Leandro, Calif., is facing a discrimination lawsuit for allegedly carrying out undercover operations targeting gay men.
Steven Mengel and Michael Woody filed the lawsuit against the city and its police department in federal court, alleging that the civil rights of gay men were violated when police officers carried out undercover sting operations in an effort to stop public sexual activity, the Oakland Tribune reported Wednesday.
Dozens of gay men were arrested during such stings, some were charged with attempting to conduct a lewd act in public and some were not charged.
"They only make these arrests for male-male conduct," Mengel and Woody's lawyer, Bruce Nickerson, said. "It's outrageous. It's discriminatory."
The lawsuit says the police department targeted only gay men for the alleged activity and then caused emotional distress by distributing press releases that identified the suspects and that they had been arrested for attempting to conduct a lewd act in public.
Peter Renn, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, an advocate for gay and lesbian causes, said if there is no evidence the police department targeted heterosexual couples as well, then it's likely discrimination.
"If there are no arrests for heterosexual lewd conduct then that is certainly eyebrow-raising. If that is what is happening it's illegal," Renn said. "All of us have the right to equal treatment from the government."
Renn added: "Publicizing the arrest has the effect of harassing and publicly humiliating someone who may very well be innocent. People shouldn't be tried and convicted through press releases."