GLAA testifies against ABC Board actions

TESTIMONY ON THE CONFIRMATION
OF ALLEN E. BEACH
FOR THE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL BOARD

Delivered before the DC Council
Committee on Consumer & Regulatory Affairs

SEPTEMBER 18, 1996

Chairman Ray, Councilmember Mason, and Fellow Citizens:

My name is Rick Rosendall. I am currently President of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization in the country; we celebrated our 25th anniversary earlier this year. With me this morning is Mr. Craig Howell, a former GLAA President and a longtime activist in his own right. Both of us are proud to be native Washingtonians, and we are pleased to be with you this morning.

We are here to testify in connection with PR 11-791, the "Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Allen E. Beach Confirmation Resolution of 1996." Specifically, we have come here today to raise an issue which we believe this Committee should, in turn, raise with the nominee before voting on his confirmation. More broadly, we would like to suggest that the Council should use this confirmation proceeding to send a message to the ABC Board to cease and desist from its current harassment of several bars that cater to a gay male clientele.

We are referring to the ABC Board's ongoing attempts to close down the bars known as "Wet" and "The Edge," both located within the same building in Southeast Washington, because of allegations that patrons have been allowed to touch the nude male dancers performing there; and to the Board's similar efforts to shut down the bar known as the "Green Lantern," located near Thomas Circle in Northwest Washington, because of allegations of improper sexual activity among the patrons on the premises.

GLAA regards the Board's mini-crusade against these establishments to be a pointless waste of taxpayers' money at a time when we can ill afford such moralistic shenanigans. We are not here to argue whether the Board's allegations are or are not literally true; we can leave that to the attorneys for these establishments. We are here to say that, even if they were true, the Board should heed that ancient maxim De minimis non curat lex — "The law should not be concerned with trifles" — and drop these complaints without further delay or expense either to the taxpayers or to the establishments.

We are gratified that we enjoy the support of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans in protesting this abuse of the ABC Board's authority. In a letter to GLAA he wrote on August 15, Mr. Evans declared: "I am committed to working with you on finding out who and why these establishments are being targeted, and what I can do to 'pull in the reins' from the ABC Board. The legislation I introduced in 1994 was not meant to be used for such 'witch-hunts,' and may have to be reexamined in the near future."

GLAA has long fought efforts to curb or abolish nude dancing in the District of Columbia. Our emphasis has always been on the rights of consumers to decide the kind of entertainment they want, so long as such entertainment does not impinge on the equal rights of others who decline to participate. We believe that nude dancing is just another form of entertainment that should be available for adult patrons in D.C. establishments, and that objections by holier-than-thou outsiders should be routinely ignored; if they don't like it, let them take their business elsewhere. Allegations of "improper touching" of dancers are too trivial for any governmental authority to bother with; just whose rights or legitimate interests are being violated by such acts?

Washington is a big city, an international city and a convention town; why can't our city offer the kind of entertainment that many visitors expect of a cosmopolitan center? The District needs tax dollars badly, both from our suburban friends and from visitors from across the country. Our government is already too proficient in driving people out of business. This is one case where sound political philosophy and sound business practice both lead to one conclusion: Call off the ABC Board!

The Board's complaints against the Green Lantern implicitly echo some of the same ill-conceived arguments used elsewhere to rationalize government efforts to close down bathhouses in the name of AIDS prevention. AIDS prevention strategies are a matter best left to the public health authorities, not to ABC Boards. Punitive efforts against sexually-oriented establishments may win headlines but do nothing to slow the spread of AIDS; the focus must remain on convincing sexually active people to avoid unsafe sexual behaviors regardless of where such acts occur.

We are glad that Mr. Beach is here this morning to listen to our concerns; we hope he will take our message back to his colleagues on the Board. And, as we said at the outset of our testimony, we hope this Committee and the Council as a whole will agree with us that the Board's resources would best be reallocated to other cases where legitimate public issues are raised -- such as allegations of excessive noise, improper trash removal or sanitation practices, serving obviously intoxicated patrons, or selling to minors.

Thank you for your attention. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have.


See related statement

See related testimony from March 1997

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