Fifty years ago, at 14 years old, Harold Kooden followed a man into the park for a potential hookup. After finally making a move, Harold was immediately arrested. Harold–and a judge–later realized it was police entrapment.
My name is Harold Kooden, and I was born in Chicago. We moved to California, North Hollywood, California.
At about eleven, I discovered quite accidentally in one of the johns in the local park, there were some men inside who seemed to be doing things that really interested me. So I started going there, I’d ride my bike and go to the johns and meet different men, and I only knew that you only ever went to the john to meet somebody. I didn’t even have a name for it at the time, it was just something I liked to do, and liked having done to me.
When I was fourteen, I was in the 10th grade in high school. One night I had been out with my brother and my sister and her fiance. I remember being very horny all day. So we came home, and as soon as I could, I got on my bike and went dashing, you know it’s about a mile away of riding, going to the park. I saw a man standing around, and so I started walking into the park. I had left my bike. I kept walking, and after about five minutes he had followed me and started talking to me. And we walked and talked, and then he suggested that we sit down on a park bench. This was now very much into the park, so it was quite secluded. He started talking to me and asking me a lot of questions like how long I had been doing this, and this conversation went on and on and on, and if he hadn’t been attractive I would have gotten up and just walked away. So I decided it’s time for me to be more grown up and take things into my own hands so to speak. So I reached over and groped him. At which point, he arrested me saying he’s a Vice Squad officer and that I was now under arrest. And so we were taken to the police station and that started the interrogation because they wanted lots of information, because here they had a fourteen year old kid and if I could have give them the names of people, this would have been a real bounty for them.
After my mother came to the police station to pick me up, and we were driving home, that’s when she said, “If you ever do this sort of thing again, I will kill myself.”
And that was basically all she said. I went to the court date with my mother, and I was supposed to, from the court, be remanded to a detention home, and it just so happened that my sister was getting married that day. It was just totally coincidental. And at first, when the judge asked me to tell what happened the night of the arrest,I explained everything I said to you. There was some puzzlement, so he asked me to tell the story again, and so I told the story again, which was exactly what happened. Years later, I realized it’s because it was police entrapment. He knew, but said nothing and didn’t dismiss the case, but what he did do was that when my mother said that my sister’s getting married that day, could I be released to go to that, he agreed that I could, as long as I’d show up at the detention home for all the testing, because they had to do a whole battery of tests on me.
And then we had another court date, this was now a month later. The judge was much softer at that point, and much easier, and he said, “The results are back,” referring to me and talking about me to my mother, “he’s very intelligent, much too sensitive for a kid his age, and has to be treated differently.”
I think part of it was the fact that he didn’t want it to get out, about the police entrapment. It gave me a perspective on what it’s like to be an oppressed minority. And it was very connected with how I became an activist, because though my activism really didn’t start fully until I moved to New York, when I was thirty. By that point, I had gotten my doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
To me the arc of going through, from seeing a day being in Los Angeles, being arrested for being gay, to jump start to 35, 40, 50 years later to speaking at the American Psychological Association Annual Conference, in Los Angeles as one of the principal speakers outlining a history of gay movement and what its underpinnings had been. So there are many arcs that I’ve gone through, and it’s important for everybody to understand that.