- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2000

Homosexual activists have won D.C. Council members' support for a bill that would end a six-year moratorium against downtown nude dance clubs obtaining liquor licenses.

Council member Sharon Ambrose sponsored the bill, which received preliminary approval during a council meeting late Tuesday. The council will vote on the liquor-licensing bill's final version on Dec. 19.

"I'm not prepared to set myself up as the arbiter of taste, and I'm certainly not the arbiter of morals," said Mrs. Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat.

"Sharon Ambrose and [council member] Jack Evans are taking downtown back to the way it was when it was a notorious red-light district," said the Rev. Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a network of 35 churches.

"This could kill the golden goose in downtown redevelopment that has brought in tens of millions of dollars," he said.

Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, voiced the only opposition to ending the moratorium, and his proposed amendment to retain it was defeated by the rest of the council Tuesday.

"Allowing the proliferation of nude clubs flies in the face of what this bill is supposed to be all about," Mr. Brazil said yesterday. "It creates an atmosphere of lawlessness, fights and the kind of conduct we don't want downtown."

The council's openly homosexual members Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and David A. Catania, at-large Republican joined the rest of the council to defeat Mr. Brazil's proposal.

Both men have said such clubs are fine if located only in nonresidential commercial areas. Mr. Catania said nude dancing by itself does not endanger the community.

Frank Kameny, a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) in the District, said his group lobbied wavering council members about the bill.

"I know Jack Evans personally, and I spoke to him about it," Mr. Kameny told The Washington Times, adding that Mrs. Ambrose invited him to join the task force that drafted the bill's provisions.

GLAA members hand-delivered letters calling for the moratorium to be lifted to all the council members Tuesday morning, and several members kept an eye on the proceedings until the council completed work on the bill at 10 p.m., Mr. Kameny said.

The 1994 ban on liquor licenses for nude dancing clubs exempted about 16 clubs, which continue to operate. Currently, new strip clubs can open downtown but cannot apply for liquor licenses.

The bill provision that would allow the clubs to apply for liquor licenses is part of a massive overhaul of how the District regulates the sale, taxing and importation of liquor.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has not staked out a position on the strip-club provision, said his press secretary, Peggy Armstrong.

Mr. Lynch expressed disappointment at Mrs. Ambrose's and Mr. Evans' support for the bill, describing them as well-known neighborhood advocates. In fact, Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, was the force behind the 1994 ban on strip clubs getting liquor licenses.

Mr. Evans said the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has improved enough to earn his trust to handle liquor-license applications from strip clubs.

"I have a certain amount of ambivalence about lifting it. I'm willing to give it a try," Mr. Evans told The Times yesterday. "If it doesn't work, we'll put the ban back in place."

Mrs. Ambrose told The Times her bill would give concerned businesses, neighbors and advisory neighborhood commissioners more power to oppose a strip club's application for a license.

Assistant Police Chief William P. McManus would not comment on the bill's merits, but said strip clubs in general bring "a lot of crime and disorder to an area" and "invite prostitution."

"I think it's detrimental to the growth of an area to have those kind of establishments," said Chief McManus, commander of the Central Regional Operations Command of the Metropolitan Police Department.

John J. Brennan III, a lawyer who fought strip clubs in the mid-1990s, said allowing more clubs will create a domino effect.

When a bar owner sees his competitor raking in money with nude dancers, that owner will think, " 'You might as well join the party than fight it,' " he said.

"We cannot support legislation that would facilitate any behavior which is disrespectful to human dignity," said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. "This is a bill that's bad for D.C."

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