Gay men meeting for sex in public places in Manchester should be tolerated, not arrested, gay rights group OutRage! has said.

Following reports of a police crackdown on cruising in the city’s canal area, OutRage! say there should be a “sensible, long-term and fair approach” to the issue such as tolerated cruising areas.

Manchester police are implementing more patrols along the canal tow path after a number of complaints about robberies and assaults.

The area has long been a popular spot for men meeting for sex but cruisers are now being warned they face arrest if caught.

OutRage! claims that recent messages passed on the community by the north west-based Gay and Lesbian Foundation are “confusing” because there are no laws which specifically state that having sex in a public place is illegal.

Police may charge cruisers with “outraging public decency” but this is usually reserved for persistent offenders or when activity has been viewed by members of the public.

The gay group believes it is time for a rethink on the issue, saying that cruising is an important part of the gay community and cannot be ignored.

OutRage! member David Henry told PinkNews.co.uk: “The area that we’re talking about, cruising is tolerated unofficially. But there is quite a lot of anger in the gay community about how it’s being handled. It’s only a small number of local residents complaining and it’s not like there are letters to the local paper about it.

“The [gay] community has been victimised and singled out. It is a red light area with plenty of heterosexual sex workers and kerb crawlers and they are tolerated. A lot of it is homophobia.

“We’d like other agencies such as the police and council to get behind this concept [of tolerated gay cruising areas]. There are other places, such as Brighton and Blackpool, possibly also Liverpool, where this is in place.”

When asked about whether cruising areas were more attractive to married men and those in the closet, Henry said: “There is definitely an element of that, but not as much as it used to be in the past.”

He added: “In old-style OutRage! language, it’s about sexual liberation. There isn’t a long-term solution but it is needed.”

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