The Rev. Grant Storms, who made national headlines in the last decade when he attempted to shut down the annual Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter, was arrested in Jefferson Parish on an obscenity charge Feb. 25. Storms, who famously denounced the largely gay Labor Day celebration as "perversion," was taken into custody for allegedly masturbating near a Lafreniere Park playspot where children were present.
According to the arrest report, Storms told the attending officer he wasn't masturbating, but had simply opted to urinate in a bottle in his van rather than find a park restroom. Storms, who was being held on bond, was released by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office (JPSO) Feb. 27 due to jail overcrowding.
Storms held a press conference March 1 at which he admitted the alibi was a lie, but did not admit to masturbating. "I'm confessing to having my hand in my pants," Storms said. "That's all I'm going to say."
Despite the arrest report in Jefferson Parish in which he seemed to implicate himself for public masturbation, Storms said he no longer agreed to the charges ("It's contradictory to what happened"). He added that the conduct of sheriff's deputies was like a "stab in the back," calling the sheriffs' interview procedures "coercive and insulting."
"It's not true I confessed," Storms said. "I'm losing faith in law enforcement."
Speaking in the parking lot of a service-road motel in Metairie, where he had been staying since his arrest, Storms struggled for composure, at times breaking down in tears as he described the effect his arrest had on his wife and four children, the youngest of whom are 9 and 6 years old. "I'll have to tell them, 'Daddy has a problem,'" he said, weeping.
Storms wanted to clear the record on one issue in particular, denying he had parked in the vicinity of the Lafreniere playspot to watch children. "I am not a pedophile," he said. "I am not a child molester."
In 2003, Storms and his followers marched on Southern Decadence with bullhorns and told ABC News' Primetime Live he wanted the annual Labor Day weekend gay pride festival shut down "utterly and totally. We want them out of town." He told the press at the time, "Having oral sex in the middle of the street or masturbating is illegal and immoral," and said he worried that NOPD officers patrolling the festival might be tempted to cut "some kind of back-room deal to have an orgy in the street."
The following year, a group of French Quarter business owners, led by the Bourbon Street Alliance, obtained a restraining order against Storms and his protestors, and the New Orleans City Council voted to bar the use of bullhorns during Decadence. Storms disappeared from the public eye shortly thereafter, but a lawsuit he filed against a Wisconsin gay group backfired on the pastor in 2006 when a judge found his suit lacked merit and ordered him to pay $87,000 to the group he was suing.
Today, Storms says, he is not employed as a pastor and makes a living with a lawn care service he operates out of the van in which he was arrested. He characterized his protests as "hateful," and asked for the forgiveness of those he had hurt with his anti-gay rhetoric. "I was very proudful, arrogant," Storms said. "I have been vicious at times in my condemnation of others." Would he return to Southern Decadence to denounce the crowds? "No, no," he said.
Immediately before going to the park, Storms said, he had been looking at online porn and admitted, "I have a problem with pornography. Pornography is destructive." Asked if the pornographic material was heterosexual, homosexual or child-centered, he said, "Heterosexual."
Asked if he would characterize his behavior as a manifestation of sex addiction, he said, "I'm familiar with sex addiction, being a pastor ... I'll just say: Do I have a problem? Yes."
Despite that problem, he said, this arrest was the first of its kind for him. "I have deeply hurt my family," Storms said, weeping, "and I pray they can find it within their hearts to forgive me."
The tears, the piety, the nature of the alleged crime and even the setting were all familiar. In 1988, the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart confessed to having sex with a prostitute in a different Metairie motel in his "I have sinned" speech. In 2007, Sen. David Vitter, in an appearance at yet another Metairie hotel, confessed to unspecified "sins" in his own past after he was linked with D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Like Storms, both men had been crusaders for so-called traditional family values.
Storms said he didn't have a lawyer but planned to fight the charge in court. He left the motel parking lot on foot with a man he said was his pastor. If convicted of obscenity, he would be liable for several thousand dollars in fines and a jail term of between six months and three years. — Kevin Allman