FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, April 21, 1997
Contact: Rick Rosendall (202) 667-5139
GAYS FIGHT CITY HARASSMENT OF THEIR BUSINESSESGLAA and Gay & Lesbian Business Guild Launch Broad Effort;
Gays Ask City Hall to Straighten Priorities
“The city is cracking down on gay businesses instead of crack houses,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC. “It is high time that the city get its priorities straight. We are not a threat to this city, bad government is.” GLAA has pressed District officials for months to explain several episodes of regulatory harassment, and to end the obnoxious practices and adjust the District’s priorities.
District police, fire, and regulatory personnel — including the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board — have been raiding and writing up gay and lesbian-owned businesses for over two years. In a number of cases, police have stormed businesses in 1950s-style raids, operating on unfounded anonymous tips from area residents. The harassment has stepped up recently, with the formation by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Larry Soulsby of a liquor task force composed of police officers and health- and fire-code inspectors. Motivating the task force is Soulsby’s controversial “Zero Tolerance” policy, which is intended to combat violence but has more often resulted in bar owners being cited for using extension cords and ordered to change the spot where their license is displayed.
The harassment has disproportionately targeted gay businesses. As Washington City Paper reports in its April 18 issue, “In the eight weeks since it assembled, the task force has raided nearly half the roughly 20 gay establishments in town.” City Paper goes on to quote MPD Sgt. Ralph Wax admitting that the first places the task force hit were gay bars. “ ‘We went [to the gay clubs] at the insistence of the ABC Board,’ says Wax. ‘I don’t recall any specific complaints.’ ”
In response to the harassment, GLAA, with support from the Gay and Lesbian Business Guild, is launching a broad counterattack aimed at telling the city to “Get one thing straight — your priorities.” GLAA is running a series of full page ads in The Washington Blade, Metro Weekly (MW), and Washington City Paper. The first round of ads ask residents what they consider a higher priority — fighting crime or harassing gay establishments. Residents are then encouraged to clip and mail a letter to Mayor Marion Barry.
Future ads will focus on the numerous other serious problems faced by the city, from notoriously hazardous drinking water to crumbling public schools. “All these problems continue to plague our city. Yet time, money and personnel are afforded to raiding gay and lesbian establishments,” says Rosendall. “The city’s priorities and tactics are a disgrace.”
Cooperating gay businesses will also start offering patrons stacks of letters to send city officials, and activists will be hitting the streets with letters and brochures.
The activists’ timing may be both perfect and ironic. Gay groups throughout the area are planning for the annual Lesbian and Gay Freedom Festival this June, which is expected to draw thousands. The celebration is timed to honor a 1969 raid by New York police and regulatory officers against the Stonewall bar, which touched off both a riot and the modern gay rights movement.
“Twenty-eight years after Stonewall, the extent to which this harassment campaign has been carried in the nation’s capital is a sad reminder that we can’t afford to take our freedoms for granted,” said Rosendall. “Considering how much is on the city’s plate already, you would think that they wouldn’t have room for anything more. But it seems that for the District, as in the old Jello commercial, there’s always room for a little regulatory gay-bashing.”