The panel was moderated by Michael Ocello of PT’s Cabaret’s and president of the Illinois chapter of the Association of Club Executives (ACE), the trade association of U.S. adult nightclubs.
Speakers included Luke Liakos, club owner and president of Ohio’s ACE chapter, the Buckeye Association of Club Executives (BACE); Brandon Samuels of Scarlett’s Cabaret and ACE Florida; ACE Ohio lobbyist Denny Larr; Ohio attorney Michael Murray; Los Angels-based attorney John Weston of Weston, Garrou, DeWitt and Walters; and Angelina Spencer, executive director of ACE.
The subject matter at hand was war, specifically the war currently being waged against adult cabarets and bookstores throughout the country by state legislatures often succumbing to intimidation tactics by a Cincinnati-based censorship group called the Citizens for Community Values (CCV), enacting laws that place zoning and other restrictions on adult cabarets and bookstores so onerous that many are being forced to permanently shutter.
In Ohio, CCV succeeded in helping push through SB 16, also known as the Community Defense Act, which was passed by the Ohio Legislature in May and allowed to become law without Gov. Ted Strickland's signature.
SB 16 requires adult-oriented businesses that have a state-issued liquor license to prohibit any employees from being nude or seminude between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. It also mandates requirements for the amount of physical space that must be maintained between bar patrons and performers, effectively preventing lap dances.
BACE currently is raising funds and organizing a state-wide petition to place a referendum on November’s ballot seeking the repeal of Ohio SB 16.
The unanimous opinion of the panelists was that Ohio is a test case for CCV, and that failure by the adult entertainment industry to get the law repealed will lead to similar battles in state after state throughout the country. In fact, those battles have already begun, in states like Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Florida.
But unlike many calls to arms made at adult entertainment conferences, the overriding point made today was that litigation as a form of warfare needs to take a backseat to more political tactics, such as lobbying and utilizing direct-participation tools such as state referendums and recalls.
Michael Murray and John Weston, two of the most experienced and respected in the industry, both drove the same point home. Whereas in years past the federal courts would have been the first stop they would have made in trying to get bad legislation overturned, because the federal courts especially are historically renowned for being objective, professional and non-partisan, recent Bush appointees at the federal appeals court and even Supreme Court levels have made such safe assumptions a thing of the past.
“Reflexively, we have always counted on the federal courts,” Weston said, “but increasingly, we go to our legislators and often we have to go directly to the people.”
Weston mentioned recent populist tactics employed in Los Angles, Scottsdale and Seattle that were successful in thwarting censorship initiatives, but he added that such activities are very expensive if done the right way, which means organizing a coalition of support within the industry, employing election specialists, signature-getters, industry attorneys and professional organizers, to name just a few requirements.
While such efforts are daunting, especially when repeated in different locales and states, the alternative is increasingly unacceptable, a landscape in which legal business are forced to close not because of any identifiable negative secondary effects, but simply because a small minority of citizens is offended by their activity.
An answer by Angelina Spencer to a closing question put the situation faced by adult clubs and stores around the nation into stark perspective. When asked by an audience member for advice for club owners who might be worried more about competition than government censorship, Spencer said, “You simply have to make them realize that the government can put you out of business a whole lot easier than your competitors.”
This is truly sage advice for an industry that tends to come together only when it has a gun to its head. Sadly, or perhaps fortuitously, the impassioned seminar speakers today made clear that the industry’s enemies are indeed packing serious heat and have every intention of continuing to pull the trigger.