Discrimination against gays is most invidious when it targets us as a class. For years, the easiest tact for law enforcement was to target gay men offering to commit lewd acts in venues like public parks, gay bookstores, or on gay beaches.
Gay bars are also easy targets for straight cops. Of course, sometimes our conduct warranted censure. Public and licensed alcoholic beverage establishments are no place for glory holes. Blatant sex in back rooms of public bars cannot be countenanced. They are public meeting places, not pubic ones.
Dance clubs featuring erotic dancers performing in skimpy briefs also make easy targets. The nightclub laws in some cities, such as Fort Lauderdale, ban the same kinds of bathing suits you see on a public beach. The ordinances are mindless.
City ordinances make it lewd and illegal to expose any part of the cleft of the anus, reveal the female tip of the areola, or even allow a man to get an erection in a nightclub. Dancers must perform on elevated stages five feet from customers. Fortunately, most cities understand they have greater problems then consenting adults groping one another in gay bars. They wisely look the other way. Seven years after the Supreme Court of the United States of America declared consenting homosexual acts are lawful, it should be so.
During the past month, the city of Fort Lauderdale has apparently had a hard on for Johnny’s Bar at 1116 West Broward Boulevard, two blocks from its own police station. FLPD has ‘visited’ them multiple times in the past month; first, code enforcement, then zoning, then state Alcohol, Beverage and Tobacco agents. It has become clear that the FLPD has selectively targeted and unjustly picked out this one club for prosecution.
Police officials say they are concerned about underage drinking and prostitution. Of course they have a right to ban illegal activity, but their latest endeavors are questionable. This past Sunday, a 21-year-old college student working at a bar denied an underage visitor a beer because he lacked ID. The bartender served him a glass of tap water instead. He was nevertheless arrested for serving a minor.
Also arrested last week was a dancer for performing a lap dance on an undercover officer who came into the bar and asked for one. Remember, the cop came to him. We are not talking about dancers selling kilos of coke here. As a matter of fact, after numerous investigations, no dancers have been found to have any drugs on them.
Other establishments similarly situated in the city have not yet been specifically targeted, but all erotic dance clubs are susceptible to this type of law enforcement activity. Once one adult entertainment establishment is hit, others will be next.
The senior detective engineering this campaign is Detective William Spodnick. He has foolishly bragged how he shut down adult bookstores years ago by charging them with first degree felonies, for conducting ‘racketeering’ operations. He has so publicly threatened Johnny’s, warning them they better get a ‘criminal lawyer.’ His own words have made them his target. He has thus disqualified himself from further law enforcement activity at this establishment, where he has now openly demonstrated a prejudice for the owner.
Detective Spodnick’s stewardship of this investigation is now compromised. His remarks cannot be tolerated by the gay community’s leadership, nor should it be accepted by the police department.
At the same time, we must note that Detective Spodnick has had a distinguished career, earning well-deserved commendations for curtailing underage drinking in bars. Few things are more dangerous than intoxicated kids leaving nightclubs and getting behind the wheel of the car.
Detective Spodnick has also distinguished himself by bringing down an international escort operation which laundered money and mistreated women. If you engage in illegal acts, he will arrest you whether you are straight or gay.
Because police now say there is an ‘open’ investigation into the establishment, they are unwilling to comment about it. We disagree. If law enforcement legitimately wants to work with the gay community and not against us, that is exactly what they should do. Talk to us. If they see things which are illegal, we must bring it to an end.
This is precisely why FLPD hired a specific officer to act as a liaison to the gay community. His services, however, have not been employed. Why not? To suddenly start enforcing regulations which have otherwise been ignored for a decade, with no notice, is unfair and unjust. Enlightened police officials could have effectively dispatched their gay liaison to any gay bars generating their concern- in advance of opening an investigation.
Law enforcement could have set up meetings with owners and their attorneys, and worked together as partners, achieving mutual compliance. If that means dancers have less contact with patrons, or that structural platforms meeting city codes be strictly abided by, so be it. Responsibly, with notice, work together for a common plan which can be uniformly applied to all establishments. The police have instead chosen to be callous and adversarial. They are forcing gay bars into a war they do not want.
Let’s not have here another raid like the Atlanta gay bars did last year, which led to a federal lawsuit and firing of renegade cops who stomped the heads of innocent gay patrons.
Let’s not have another Copa, where 20 years ago in our own town BSO brutalized hundreds of gay patrons only to wind up as defendants in a civil action which cost taxpayers money because of their negligence.
Fort Lauderdale is a community which has elected gay city commissioners, employs gay police, and is the home to a large gay community. Instead of calling a meeting to address the problem, you go out and arrest young dancers struggling to earn an extra buck? You threaten customers with arrest and humiliation? How foolish is that? Very!
All the Fort Lauderdale Police Department has done so far is harm its relationship with the gay community. We are entitled to co-operation and not confrontation. Our community is part of, not apart from, the economy and leadership of this city.
This is no longer about one act of prostitution by one young man allegedly soliciting one undercover cop. It is not about one bartender allegedly serving a minor. It is about one police department being proactive and moving into the 21st century, working with the gay community, instead of against it.
We need to get angry. We are in South Florida and it is the year 2010. We could have done better.