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STEAM ed

The San Francisco publishers of STEAM magazine are in an uproar over a waggish letter from Fort Worth police Chief Thomas Windham.

The national gay and bisexual-oriented publication, which reaches about 45,000 readers each month, prints a directory of the best places around the country for public sex. A copy of the list, which includes the Fort Worth Nature Center and the Kimbell Art Museum, fell into the hands of a Tarrant County Christian group--with predictable results. The chief received about a hundred angry calls from people fearing their children would learn more about art and nature on Fort Worth outings than they bargained for.

The worst part about STEAM's directory, says police department spokeswoman Lt. Pat Kneblick, is that it's inaccurate. Very little sex--at least of the human kind--goes on at the Nature Center, nor will folks find much action at the Kimbell and most other places in the directory. To double check, undercover vice officers "monitored" the locations. Ironically, Fort Worth's hottest spot for public gay sex, Gateway Park, isn't even included in the directory, she says.

After calming the citizens, Chief Windham fired off a note to STEAM editor Scott O'Hara:

Thank you for printing a list of Fort Worth locations where, according to your magazine, your readers could engage in sexual activity in public places. As a result of the article, the Fort Worth Police Department has been able to actively enforce Texas state laws regarding public lewdness in those areas.

But STEAM wasn't charmed by the thank-you note--the only one it has ever received from a law-enforcement agency. The magazine's editors view the chief's letter as an attempt at intimidation. "The point was to scare us and make us ashamed," complains marketing director Melissa Murphy. The chief's note is a throwback to the days when police pressure kept gays underground, she contends.

To fight back, Murphy says STEAM plans a special report on surveillance, advising its readers on how to avoid police harassment.

Kneblick counters that the Fort Worth department isn't targeting homosexual behavior--just enforcing the state's law against public lewdness. "We arrest heterosexuals just as quickly," she says, "if they get carried away in a public place."

Rodney King, Take 2
More than a few motorists heading for the State Fair were shocked to see the billboard for Sharp Electronics' hot new camcorder at the Second Avenue exit of I-30. "You can't do this with just any video camcorder," it says.

The accompanying giant illustration shows hands holding a camcorder--but it's the image in the camcorder's viewfinder that forces you to risk a high-speed double take. No, it's not the usual kids' party or a vacation shot. It's a police squad car.

Who, we thought, is the target market for this ad? Folks who like to monitor police misconduct?

"When you bring it up, I can understand that connection," says Dan Infanti, Sharp's vice president for corporate communication and marketing, trying to explain the billboard's concept. What the billboard is supposed to be showing, he says, is that "this is a camcorder you can look over things with." Things like a roadside billboard with a police cruiser hiding behind it. Get it?

"In small type," notes Infanti, wary of further misinterpretation, "it says 'Drive safely.'

 
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