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Despite initial — and substantial — opposition to the multi-million dollar proposition of bringing baseball to Washington, the city’s new team is set to play its inaugural regular-season game next week, April 14. Earlier next week, Monday, April 11, members of the LGBT community will be gathering to discuss the fate of gay-oriented adult businesses sitting squarely in the footprint of planned stadium the Nationals are to call home.
“In the back of our minds, it’s there: If we’re going to be out of here in a year, where will we go? What will we do?” asks Donnell Robinson, who performs as Ella Fitzgerald. “It’s beginning to hit home — home plate, so to speak.”
Robinson plans to mark his 25th anniversary of performing at Ziegfeld’s on July 4. The Ziegfeld’s/Secrets Entertainment Complex has offered female impersonators and male nude dancers for decades. It is both the site of Monday’s meeting and the Nationals’ proposed stadium.
Monday’s meeting is being organized by the D.C. Coalition, the district’s African-American LGBT organization; the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a local group, but the country’s oldest continuously running gay civil rights organization; and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s organization for LGBT Democrats. Under the title “3 Strikes, We’re Out!” owners of the affected venues — Club Washington, Edge/Wet, Follies, Glorious Health, Heat, Nation and Secrets/Ziegfeld’s are also scheduled to attend. Among the panelists scheduled to lead the public discussion are openly gay D.C. City Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), and Frank Kameny, a GLAA member and a pioneer of the national gay-rights movement.
The point of the meeting, says Gertrude Stein’s Brad Lewis, is simply to figure out where the community stands now that the stadium being built directly atop these venues seems inevitable.
“The ideal is that we’re looking for it to be an open forum. We want to talk to the clubs, see where their heads are and whether they want to relocate. If they do, we want to make sure they have the ability to do so. And we want to get a feeling from the community in general about how they feel about the O Street corridor,” Lewis says. “We’re thinking we should get a big cross-section, at least 100 people. We’re outreaching to a lot of people in the community. These clubs have direct impact — even if you’ve never been there — that you need to be aware of. They generate revenue in the LGBT business community. They give to causes. A lot of them support causes like Getrude Stein Democrats or Food & Friends. We want to talk about that impact of the possible closings.”
Philip Pannell, a founder of the D.C. Coalition, says that while Graham is the only council member scheduled to appear on the panel, he has visited council members’ offices to ensure that all 13 have been invited to attend the meeting.
“Kwame Brown indicated to me that he would try to make it, as well Vincent Gray. Marion Barry is not sure if he can make it, but I think he’s sending a representative. I assumed Jack Evans will be there,” Pannell says.
Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large), the city’s second openly gay Council member and one of the most vocal critics of using district funds to bring baseball to D.C., also plans to attend, according to his office.
Metro Weekly was unable to confirm by deadline whether Councilmember Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), within whose ward the planned stadium will be built, planned to attend the meeting.
Pannell adds that while like the Stein Democrats, the D.C. Coalition has no official position regarding the stadium, his group want to take an active role in the discussion. GLAA, meanwhile, has been lobbying the City Council regarding the stadium.
“We strongly believe that in an international city such as ours, people should be able to choose adult entertainment for themselves,” Richard Rosendall, GLAA vice president for political affairs, wrote in a November letter to the Council on GLAA’s behalf. “That will be impossible if the few existing establishments serving our community are forced off their existing land and cannot relocate elsewhere.”
Added Rosendall earlier this week, “We certainly think that we have to, at the very least, raise the flag and push for this thing, because it’s really sort of outrageous to displace those places and then leave them nothing.”
Whether some venues will be given licenses in other parts of the city, whether a new entertainment block will be created for all of them — or whether bars, clubs and adult theaters alike will all simply be paved over in the name of progress, no one knows. Robinson says, however, that while he’s remaining optimistic about his own future, he’s beginning to sense some anxiety among the nude dancers on the Secrets side of the complex. “I’ll continue to work as long as I can walk in high heels,” he says with a confident laugh. “But we’ve been there so long, it’s like my second home. The younger [male dancers] are frightened because [Secrets] is all they know. They don’t know what they’re going to do. With the whole stadium thing, obviously something is going to happen. It’s just a matter of what. It will be sad and devastating, but we have to go on.”
The April 11 meeting at Ziegfeld’s, 1345 Half St. SE, is scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m. The meeting will include complimentary dinner and a performance by Ella Fitzgerald. To RSVP, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.