Stein Dems Back Bill

Group votes to back move to aid displaced Southeast DC gay club venues

The regular May meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the primary voice of GLBT Democrats in the district, was billed as a chance to chat with special guest Mayor Adrian Fenty (D). What the May 14 meeting really boiled down to, though, was a chance to rally the troops in support of those gay nude-dancing venues displaced by the city’s baseball stadium land grab, roughly a year ago.

”Let’s face it: Nobody wants to talk about nude dancing,” Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) told the audience of about 60 people Tuesday evening, assembled in the John A. Wilson Building downtown. Where the City Council is concerned, the openly-gay Graham is certainly an exception to that assessment, having introduced ”The One-Time Relocation of Licensees Displaced by the Ballpark Amendment Act of 2007.” This legislation would ease the restrictions — as interpreted by the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board — on those liquor-licensed businesses, whose licenses also allowed for nude dancing, that had operated within 200 yards of the baseball stadium’s footprint. The measure would apply to businesses such as Ziegfeld’s, Secrets, Heat and Edge/Wet.

Graham’s bill passed out of his Committee on Public Works and the Environment unanimously May 8. The other committee members voting in favor of the bill were Kwame Brown (D-At large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). The next stop for Graham’s bill is a first reading before the Council, slated for June 5.

”We’ll have until June to assemble the votes … [and] I think we have the votes,” Graham said. His earlier warning that nude dancing is not easy to talk about made it clear, however, that he would like some support from the gay community. Graham’s legislative director, Steven Hernández, accepted an unexpected invitation to address Stein members ahead of Graham’s arrival, and emphasized that point.

”This community has an extraordinary voice,” he told the audience, touting ”how incredibly unified a community we can be,” as he worked through the points of Graham’s bill, which he guessed would pass if the GLBT community gets behind it. As Hernández spoke, he faced three main opinions from the audience.

From longtime activist and founder of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) Frank Kameny came an enthused outcry that the proposed legislation does not go far enough in helping the displaced businesses.

”Why can’t we have one sweeping law?” asked Kamney, pointing out that the proposal does not address those adult businesses without liquor licenses, such as Glorious Health and Amusements and Club Baths. ”Ideally, they should all be moved into one place … to replace what was down there in Southeast.”

Hernández answered that adult-oriented businesses that don’t serve liquor don’t face as many hurdles as their ABC-licensed counterparts. Case in point, though not mentioned by Hernández, is a new business opened last week at 2120 West Virginia Ave. NE by Bob Siegel, who owned the Glorious Health and Amusements adult theater in Southeast, and served as landlord some of the liquor-serving establishments. While Siegel has managed to open a new, dry venue — ”I have to open up, because this is killing me [financially],” Siegel said last week — an effort by Ron Hunt to bring his Edge/Wet liquor license to the same neighborhood and offer a venue with nude-female dancing and alcohol was stopped by the ABC Board, finding that his transfer from a CM (commercial manufacturing) zone of one subset to a CM zone of another subset was not allowable under current law. Graham’s legislation would waive that particular sub-zone requirement in this instance.

Former ANC 5C Commissioner Robert Brannum, a straight member of the Stein Democrats, countered Hernández’s description of the debate as ”polemic” among Ward 5 constituents. Ward 5, where Brannum’s ANC is located, is favored by the dislocated businesses for its large number of CM zones and relatively low-cost, vacant warehouses sufficiently isolated from schools and residences: ”On behalf of Ward 5, I would hope you would not use the word ‘polemic,”’ he said, describing the neighborhood as one that has warmly welcomed incoming gay homeowners.

From Richard Rosendall, GLAA’s vice president for political affairs, came a pragmatic call for the Stein Democrats to officially throw the club’s weight behind Graham’s legislation.

”GLAA is certainly not totally happy [with the bill], … but is dealing with reality,” he said. ”It doesn’t give us everything we want, but it has a good chance of passing. … It’s not perfect, but it’s workable.”

Later in the meeting, Rosendall’s call was answered with a vote in favor of a resolution offering the Stein Democrats official support.

Brannum cast the sole ”no” vote, explaining, ”I feel compelled to express myself and vote ‘no.’ I’m voting ‘no’ because I think my ward needs to be heard.”

A suggested next step was petitioning for support at the D.C. Black Pride Festival, May 27 — the only major GLBT event in the city ahead of the legislation’s first reading to the Council on June 5.

Whatever steps Gertrude Stein members take ahead of that June reading, Rosendall advised, ”I think the community has to communicate with its Council members.”

Beyond that, longtime D.C. gay activist Carlene Cheatam also suggested the Gertrude Stein club should look to proactively outreaching to Ward 5 ANCs, which would certainly be the next arena for any debate on these venues, should Graham’s bill pass.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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