Monday, October 4, 2004

Leaders of the District’s homosexual community say they will use their political clout to save a homosexual nightclub mecca that is likely to be razed to make room for a Major League Baseball stadium in Southeast.

Bob Siegel, landlord of several of the neighborhood’s homosexual strip bars and adult theaters, said Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council cannot continue to ignore the displacement of the homosexual entertainment district.

“The most gay commercial strip in D.C. is going to be wiped out, and [Mr. Williams] doesn’t say anything about that,” said Mr. Siegel, who is an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member for the area. “It’s like a fly swatter coming down and — boom — we are gone.”

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and one of two openly homosexual council members, said he expects political pressure to defend the homosexual club scene. He said he is undecided on the stadium plan and wants to study the details before taking a position.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and the council’s other openly homosexual member, has said he opposes public financing of the ballpark. He also said any displaced businesses deserve fair compensation and accommodations from the city.

Frank Kameny, who is considered the father of District’s homosexual rights movement in the 1970s, said the homosexual community probably cannot stop the stadium plan but has enough political leverage to win significant concessions from the city.

“Since we moved meaningfully into the political scene and became players in local politics, we achieved a considerable amount of clout and are listened to by the city council,” said Mr. Kameny, 79. “We have good friends on the council.”

Lenny Davis, manager of Glorious Health & Amusement, an X-rated homosexual movie house and video store, said many of the store’s patrons are ready to lobby the council or even demonstrate to defend the Southeast’s homosexual entertainment zone.

“The gay community is pretty strong, and if enough people go out to voice [opposition to the stadium plan], I think some consideration will be given,” said Mr. Davis, 67. “A lot of money comes into this community from gays.”

The administration selected a site near M and South Capitol streets SE for a ballpark for the new team. The location and the city’s offer to publicly finance 100 percent of the construction helped persuade baseball officials to move the Expos from Montreal to the nation’s capital — a decision announced Wednesday to much fanfare.

The mayor Friday introduced legislation to the D.C. Council that would give him authority to acquire the ballpark property through condemnation and finance the project with up to $500 million in bond issues.

The city set aside $65 million to buy the land, a sum far higher than its assessed value. But some property owners, including those of homosexual nightclubs, may dig in their heels and force the city to use eminent domain.

The $435.2 million stadium would replace about 60 properties in what is now largely a warehouse district in Southeast, including homosexual strip bars, dance clubs, adult theaters and bookstores lining O and Half streets.

The displaced businesses would include Glorious Health & Amusement, the female impersonator revue at Ziegfields, the nude stage show at the Follies and bars featuring nude male dancers, such as Wet, Secrets and La Cage Aux Follies, which is under renovation.

Homosexual night life has been a fixture of the neighborhood for more than 30 years.

“OK wouldn’t be the right way to describe the neighborhood but neither would troubled,” said Metropolitan Police Sgt. Brett Parson, supervisor of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, which is staffed by openly homosexual members. “To compare it to other parts of the city, it is no worse.”

Sgt. Parson said the area is surrounded by low-income housing and has a lot of daytime commercial traffic.

“But at night,” he said, “it becomes almost exclusively a gathering place for gay, lesbian and transgender entertainment.”

Mr. Siegel and other homosexual business leaders are clamoring for a meeting with the mayor and council members to strike a deal. They either want a new enterprise zone for homosexual clubs or a guarantee that their strip-bar licenses can transfer to suitable locations.

Otherwise, some will refuse to move, Mr. Siegel said.

The District’s zoning and liquor laws restrict where strip clubs can relocate, and community opposition could derail moves by homosexual bars, dance clubs and theaters.

“We do have a concern that the NIMBYs and the puritans who routinely object to other people being able to choose adult entertainment will make it difficult for those businesses, if displaced, to find a new location,” said Richard J. Rosendall, vice president for political affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.

Mr. Williams said he was aware of the predicament facing the homosexual entertainment businesses and will work with them to find a resolution.

“I want to be very, very prudent in how we approach it,” he said. “We don’t take lightly the displacement of any business, regardless of what it is about. We want to be very serious about this.”

• Judith Person contributed to this report.

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