Religious Organizations and the Fight against Showgirl Galleria

This week, the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community announced they had raised $93,000 to cover the city’s legal costs should the City of Grand Rapids decide to pursue an ordinance regulating adult “entertainment” such as the new Showgirl Galleria. However, the American Family Association of Michigan, a conservative religious group, has also sought to join the fight.

Earlier this week, community groups organizing against the proposed Showgirl Galleria “adult entertainment complex” in downtown Grand Rapids announced that they had raised nearly $100,000 to cover the city’s expected legal costs should the Grand Rapids City Commission pursue an effort to regulate adult “entertainment.” While an effort led by the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community has raised $93,000, the fund needs $100,000 in order for the city to move forward. The American Family Association of Michigan has offered to pay all of the city’s legal fees provided that it can represent the city in court, marking the second time a conservative religious organization has offered to become involved in the fight against Showgirl Galleria. Already the Michigan Decency Action Council is supporting the campaign against the club and has worked on both fundraising as well as a successful effort to get a symbolic resolution condemning “live nude entertainment” and argued that businesses like Showgirl Galleria are immoral and threaten Grand Rapids’ reputation as a city built on Christian values.

Unfortunately, while the involvement of such organizations reflects the broad base of opposition to strip clubs and adult “entertainment” (or sexploitation), it runs the risk of opening of criticism from proponents of the project, the most vocal of whom is the club’s owner Mark London (who also owns Sensations), that opponents are simply “prudes” who are trying to push their own moral on others. Despite the fact that moral arguments can be made against such establishments, focusing on this angle ignores a more progressive and holistic approach that incorporates questions beyond the morality of the sexploitation industry. Such an approach might focus on how sexploitation clubs reinforce patriarchal conceptions of sex and gender and how those working at such clubs, who often face exploitation have agency and are to varying degrees victims of societal structures, and how the alleged demand for strip clubs and other businesses in the sex industry by convention attendees relates to current downtown development efforts. Moreover, the so-called “secondary effects” of strip clubs need to be addressed, effects that include may include increased crime (studies vary on this point), an increase in rates of sexually transmitted disease, and the possibility of an objectified view of women where images promoted on billboards and in advertisements promote the idea that women are tools for sexual gratification rather than friends, lovers, mothers, or equals. Such an objectified view could increase the potential for rape or domestic violence against women.

The more holistic approach described in the previous paragraph is largely ignored once conservative religious and “pro-family” organizations get involved. Already, in the Grand Rapids Press, owner of Showgirl Galleria, Mark London, was quoted saying that “You get these loons out there on certain issues like abortion, affirmative action, my business, and there is no calming these nuts down.” An employee at another local strip club has made similar arguments, stating that the people seeking to regulate the clubs are “hags.” While such insults are certainly immature, they are enabled by the involvement of groups such as the Michigan Decency Action Council and the American Family Association of Michigan (AFA) whose conservative ideologies open the way for criticism. The Michigan Decency Action Council’s (MDAC) declared mission grounds their work in the Christian tradition and describes their goal of stopping the “venomous perversions of sex and violence” brought on by strip clubs. MDAC believes that with “God’s help” and educating about the pornography industry that they can stop its expansion. The Grand Rapids Press has referred to Dar VanderArk of the Grand Rapids-based MDAC as a “smut-buster.” Similarly, while London’s quote in the Grand Rapids Press does not diminish the opposition to the club, it does reflect a problem that can arise when conservative groups get involved—they typically approach the adult “entertainment” issue from a moral perspective that also opposes homosexuality and abortion while making other absolute moral arguments. In the case of the American Family Association of Michigan, the organization supports a ban on gay marriage, opposes abortion and supports a variety of restrictions on the practice, has criticized a class at the University of Michigan on homosexuality, and has offered to defend Christians in Novi, Michigan who were allegedly discriminated against by a ban on neighborhood nativity scenes.

Thus far, the City has not acted on the American Family Association of Michigan’s offer, but City Commissioner Rick Tormala told WZZM 13 that the city must represent itsel in any legal battle.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org