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Kameny defends nude dancing establishments

Testimony before the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
D.C. Council

JUNE 1, 1999

Chairperson Ambrose, Members of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs of the Council of the District of Columbia.

I testify today in formal representation of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (hereafter: GLAA). With me are GLAA President Craig Howell and former president Rick Rosendall.

While, at the outset, I testify with respect to, and in strong opposition to, the Bill 13-97, The Alcoholic Beverage Control Clarification Amendment Act of 1999, the thrust of my testimony goes beyond that to somewhat broader issues.

In view of our perceptions and impressions of the sentiments expressed at a March 3, 1999 meeting with Councilmember Ambrose, we feel betrayed by the persistent pushing of this piece of legislation, which is supposedly intended to clarify the 1994 legislation prohibiting the licensure of new establishments featuring nude dancing, but actually ensures that the policy of attrition of these establishments will be reinforced, leading to their total disappearance from the District. Why do you want to do this? You should want NOT to do it. This Bill should be killed, once and for all, as part of the proposed comprehensive overhaul of the ABC laws promised to us at that meeting.

As indicated, our concern, both for this bill, and in today's testimony generally, has to do with establishments featuring nude dancing. A group of aggressive, greedy and avaricious, and quite paranoid businessmen have joined up in an unholy alliance with some prim, prissy, puritanical clergymen, to try to impose their views of acceptable entertainment upon a collective District citizenry who have made it quite clear through their patronage of these establishments that they do not share those views. Unfortunately, those businessmen and clergymen have thus far enjoyed the cooperation and assistance of this Council, instead of receiving the rebuffs that they properly should have received. It is not only time, but long overdue, for this Council to cease humoring and indulging these people and, instead, to begin recognizing the collective approval by our citizenry of nude dancing establishments, as definitively demonstrated by the fact that all of these establishments are well-patronized, successful businesses. It is insistently to push that view that we testify today.

The impetus for Bill 13-97 arose when a several-decade-long-operating establishment, located at 1720 H Street, NW, and featuring nude dancing in recent years, was evicted by the building owner in order to demolish the building and redevelop the property. The business, seeking reasonably enough, to remain in the same general neighborhood, found a location about a block away, and arranged to continue business there. Immediately the businesspeople, and the puritans, falsely claiming actually non-existent adverse secondary effects from nude dancing establishments, sought to prevent the move, and unfortunately were able to enlist the cooperation of Councilmembers Ambrose and Mendelson through introduction of the instant bill preventing transfer of a license to another premise, thereby seeking to prevent countless District citizens from enjoying harmless entertainment of their choice, not the government's choice, or the businessmen's choice, or the puritan's choice.

More fundamentally, in some ways, this proposal, in this particular factual context, continues the process of attrition leading to the arrogantly intended complete elimination of nude dancing establishments, initiated by the 1994 Evans legislation, amending the 1986 liquor law reforms, by prohibiting the further licensing of such establishments. The 1994 legislation was hastily enacted without hearings, by legislative procedures which are questionable, in response to hysterical representations from a few downtown businesses and a distant Logan Circle citizens group. In private conversation a short time later, Councilmember Evans confessed to me that he regretted his legislation. Unfortunately, it has now remained on the books for some half-decade, doing its continuing damage.

GLAA unequivocally demands — DEMANDS — the PROMPT repeal of the 1994 Evans-initiated legislation grandfathering in then-existent nude dancing establishments, but prohibiting the licensing of new establishments.

Here in Washington, all establishments featuring nude dancing are, to our perceptions, highly successful business operations, which attract large numbers of customers — far larger numbers than the few hostile businesspeople and clergymen. Therefore the people of the District, collectively, have voted with their feet, in favor of nude dancing establishments. Let marketplace forces prevail. When the collective capacity of such establishments exceeds the demand, some will fail, the remainder will become more competitive, and the good old American capitalistic system will prevail. That is as it should be. Let it be so!

The frequently-alleged adverse secondary effects do not exist, and if they were to occur with respect to any particular establishment, could be addressed on an individual basis, without abolishing an entire class of licensure, as the 1994 legislation does.

This bill, and the 1994 legislation, represent part of an illicit and offensive effort by moral fascists to remake the morality of the District to their own liking. They must be actively resisted. If they do not approve of nude dancing, let them stay out of the establishments featuring it; those of us who patronize those establishments would be much happier for the absence of these people. Let the people of the District, individually, decide our own morals for ourselves, and our own forms of entertainment. We don't need the City Council to prescribe permitted and prohibited forms of entertainment. Let the DC government, in all of its three branches keep their hands off.

In summary and conclusion: The Bill 13-97, or any similar successor should be killed in committee, and the 1994 legislation prohibiting any new licensure of establishments permitting nude dancing should be repealed. Further, we expect fulfilment of the promise given to us at the aforesaid March 3 meeting with Councilmember Ambrose, of a comprehensive overhaul of our alcoholic beverage laws in ways relevant to our testimony today.

Thank you. I am open for questions and comments from the Committee.

[Councilmember Ambrose, the only Councilmember present at this hearing, reiterated her pledge to involve the gay and lesbian community in her efforts to overhaul the ABC laws. Specifically, she invited GLAA to send a representative to serve on the task force of citizens she is setting up to advise her on ABC issues. She also promised to run the draft legislation past us before she formally introduces it, hopefully this fall.

[The exchanges between Mrs. Ambrose and the three of us following Dr. Kameny's prepared statement were interesting and perhaps even productive. She invited us to review the standards of "appropriateness" written into current DC laws for determining what kinds of liquor licenses are or are not appropriate in different parts of the District. We agreed to review those standards but observed they are irrelevant for clubs that want to offer nude dancing under current DC law, which decrees arbitrarily that such establishments are not appropriate anywhere in the District. Mrs. Ambrose stated that the Corporation Counsel agrees with her interpretation that the present DC law requires places with liquor licenses to apply for a new license any time they move. We pointed out that this constitutes a problem for clubs offering nude dancing because they would not be allowed to receive a new license if they move. The solution therefore is not to amend the law to tighten this restriction, as envisioned in Bill 13-97, but to repeal the 1994 ban on new licenses for such establishments.]


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