Libertarians Award Strip Club Owner “Guardian of Liberty Award”

Over the weekend, the Libertarian Party of West Michigan awarded local strip club owner Mark London their “Guardian of Liberty Award” for his ongoing legal battles with the city over the opening of his Showgirl Galleria club. The political party—which is to the right of the Republican Party on many issues—gave the award to London because they admired his willingness to take on the city government and praised him as a “Small Businessman” working to preserve free speech and property rights. According to an article about the award published in the Grand Rapids Press, London used to be the treasurer of the Kent County Republican Party and ran for the Michigan House of Representatives in 1982, but gave up his political activities once he got in the sexploitation business. On the Party’s website, the Libertarians approved of London’s speech in which he called for a balanced budget, limited government, and free enterprise. They also expressed confidence that London would support Libertarian candidates in the future.

Federal Judge Allows Enforcement of Grand Rapids’ Ordinance Regulating Nude Dancing

A United States District Court Judge ruled yesterday that effective Saturday at 12:01am, the City of Grand Rapids can enforce a resolution regulating nude dancing in the city.

The corporate media reported today that United States District Court Judge Robert Bell ruled said in a preliminary hearing that the City of Grand Rapids can enforce its ordinance regulating nude dancing. The ordinance, which requires a minimal amount of clothing for dancers, keeps patrons six feet from dancers, and restricts operating hours, was allowed to go into effect because Judge Bell determined that a lawsuit filed by strip clubs challenging the ordinance did not have a “substantial likelihood of success.” Enforcement of the ordinance, passed back in April, had been delayed until Bell’s ruling as the City’s lawyers agreed to wait until for this preliminary hearing before enforcing the ordinance. As of 12:01am Saturday, the City can now begin enforcing the ordinance, although in the Grand Rapids Press Assistant City Attorney Catherine Mish said that whether or not it would be enforced tonight is “a question for Police Chief Harry Dolan.” Additional rulings on the strip clubs’ challenging the ordinance on constitutional grounds will be made on October 20, 2006 as Bell did not rule on the city’s request for dismissal of the lawsuits.

Showgirl Galleria—the proposed all-nude club in downtown Grand Rapids that in many ways triggered the ordinance—has still not opened in downtown despite initial plans to open in 2005. While the club did open temporarily as a sort of “publicity stunt” likely designed to gain media coverage, the Club has yet to open with nude dancing (a store selling “adult” merchandise is in operation) due in part to public and legal opposition. London was quoted in the media stating that his businesses (Showgirl Galleria and Sensations) will become “non sexually-oriented businesses” with dancers (London refers to them as “girls”) dressing in bikinis and covering their buttocks and breasts as of 12:01am Saturday. Other strip clubs—namely the Red Barn and Parkway Tropics—will be doing the same, with Parkway Tropics taping off a portion of their stage to keep dancers six feet from customers and requiring dancers to put on bikinis before approaching customers for tips. Of course, the fact that semi-nude dancing continues to be allowed means that more work remains to be done in combating the strip clubs and the negative consequences of pornography and the sex industry, with a considerable amount of work being left undone to confront the patriarchal aspects of such businesses instead of only confronting the moral aspects.

Showgirl Galleria Opens after Strip Club Resolution Tabled

At Tuesday morning’s Grand Rapids City Commission Committee of the Whole meeting, City Commissioners voted to table a resolution that would restrict sexually oriented businesses such as strip clubs like Mark London’s proposed Showgirl Galleria. The resolution was tabled after Commissioner Tormala announced that he planned to propose an amendment that would make nude dancing legal and focus instead on illicit activities such as prostitution. The proposed resolution as it is currently written would ban total nudity, keep patrons at a set distance from performers, elevate the stage, and require a peep show booths to be visible to club operators. Tormala said that he made the changes over concerns that the proposed resolution would not hold up to an anticipated legal challenge. Judy Rose, member of the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community, the group that is leading the effort and has offered to bankroll the city’s defense dismissed Tormala’s concerns and at the City Commission’s Tuesday night meeting said that while she had no problem waiting another two weeks for further discussion of the resolution, the City Commission had already heard from Scott Bergthold, a lawyer who specializes in the writing and defending of such resolutions who believes that the Grand Rapids resolution is entirely defensible. The corporate media has reported that most Commissioners oppose the Tormala’s changes to the resolution.

Shortly after the City Commission voted to table the resolution, Mark London opened Showgirl Galleria for the first time, holding what was described as an “impromptu” opening. While the club will not have its formal opening with regular hours until May, the “opening” on Tuesday offered Mark London another opportunity to get free advertising for his club from the corporate media who has been largely willing to give him considerable airtime to promote his club. According to the report that ran in the Grand Rapids Press, a patron challenged stereotypes about strip clubs and said “This isn’t the kind of place to get drunk and grope women… I think it’s going to be a little more upscale,” while watching three semi-nude women dance for the dozen or so men that had assembled to watch the dancers amidst the ongoing construction. As a means of flouting the proposed resolution, the dancers appeared without pasties that would be required to cover their nipples under the new resolution while patrons were encouraged to stuff dollar bills in the dancers g-strings, a practice that would be banned with the new resolution.

As has been the case with most of the reporting on the resolution in the corporate media, there was no discussion of the realities of the sex industry and instead opposition to the resolution is framed entirely in terms of religion and morality. There has yet to be any mention of the connections between the pornography industry (of which strip clubs are a part) and sexual violence or the inherent objectification and dehumanization of women in strip clubs and the ways in which such views continue outside of clubs. Similarily, while there has been considerable discussion of the Showgirl Galleria, there has been no attention given to Tini Bikini’s, another downtown club that both promotes objectifying views of women and the pornography industry as a whole.

Showgirl Galleria Land will not be Sold

Two weeks ago, the local corporate media reported that the developer of Showgirl Galleria, Mark London, was approached by developers in downtown to sell his land to make room for the so-called “mystery development” south of the S-curve in Grand Rapids. While the potential sale of the land raised questions about an effort to pass a resolution restricting sexually oriented businesses in Grand Rapids, the developer and Mark London failed to meet last week’s sale deadline. London is now stating that due to the collapse of the sale he plans to open his new club on or around May 1.

However, the corporate media is continuing to spend significant amounts of air time and column inches on rumors about the “mystery development” that is seeking a 41-acre site in downtown Grand Rapids and is reporting that people in the Grand Rapids city government expect that the sale will ultimately go through.

Background Information on Strip Clubs, Pornography, and the Sex Industry

In light of the recent controversy over Mark London’s proposed Showgirl Galleria and the Grand Rapids City Commission’s decision to pursue an ordinance regulating strip clubs, it is worth listening to a radio interview with the WHISPER Action group on strip clubs and the way in which they function in society. During the wide-ranging discussion a group of women (some of whom are former strippers) share valuable insights into strip clubs, examining both what actually goes on within the clubs—descriptions of the “work” being done, the reactions of men, and physical abuse—as well as the so-called “secondary effects” of strip clubs with regard to how they reinforce the values of the patriarchy. For many of the women participating in the discussion, the reality of stripping is that it reinforces the notion that men are superior to women and hold power over them, with a former stripper describing the “incredible amount of power” that is required for a man to be able to direct a woman to do what ever he wants for a dollar bill. This male power and privilege also functions in making men’s attendance at strip clubs “socially acceptable” because it is men that have the power to define acceptable behavior and that it is men—in the form of club owners and bartenders—that make most of the money. The interview also looks at how women are recruited into stripping and the role that the media and economic conditions play in the decisions as well as the frequency of physical and mental abuse and the way that language is used to create a level of acceptability that would not otherwise exist, with “stripping” changed to “dancing” and “strip clubs” changed to “adult entertainment” in popular discourse. Lastly, the discussion examines whether or not women involved in stripping are economically exploited and the question of whether or not a few women making a lot of money changes the objective conditions of other women involved in the industry.

In addition, the interview draws connections between participation in strip clubs and the recruitment into pornography and prostitution. Another interview with the group discusses pornography and examines much of the feminist debate around pornography, including the notion of “feminist porn” (which they argue is a small amount of the industry and that it is designed to mimic traditional pornography), the question of who benefits from pornography and the need to challenge men profiting from it, and their contention that pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs are a system of sexualized violence. There are also two worthwhile interviews on prostitution and recruitment into prostitution.

The interviews provide important contextual information that could be used during the public hearing that the City Commission will hold on its resolution regulating strip clubs. The public hearing is scheduled for the City Commission’s March 21 meeting at City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. The meeting begins at 7:00pm.

Defense Fund formed for Effort to Pass a Resolution Regulating Adult Businesses in Grand Rapids

Today, a local neighborhood organization, the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community, announced that they have raised $93,000 dollars to be used as a legal defense fund by Grand Rapids’ city government in an effort to regulate adult “entertainment” in Grand Rapids. In December, the Grand Rapids City Commission began discussing ways it could regulate adult entertainment in Grand Rapids via a resolution establishing new restrictions on such entertainment (the discussion centered on a retroactive resolution that would address existing businesses). Thus far, the City Commission has passed a symbolic resolution condemning adult entertainment but has been reluctant to pass a stricter resolution due to an unsuccessful court battle by the City to restrict the Velvet Touch. That case against the Velvet Touch, an adult bookstore on 28th Street, lost the city a considerable amount of money in legal fees. The city government is looking for $100,000 to cover legal costs while the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community are asking for the additional $7,000 needed from local businesses and citizens opposed to the club.

The organizing comes largely in response to a new adult “entertainment” business set to open in the next month in downtown Grand Rapids, Showgirl Galleria, which will be located at 234 Market SW in Grand Rapids, has drawn considerable opposition from the Black Hills neighborhood group and others due to the fact that it will be a completely nude club and will be accompanied by a large adult retail complex.

Showgirl Galleria to Open Next Month in Downtown

Showgirl Galleria, a controversial all-nude “adult entertainment” complex will open next month in downtown Grand Rapids according to the Grand Rapids Press. The news was contained with in an article reporting that owner Mark London, who also owns the Sensations club near 28th St and East Beltline, opposes the construction of a residential building across the street from his new downtown club. That residential building will be constructed by another downtown developer with questionable ethics—Joe Moch Jr.—who once “threatened” to build low-income housing if his Icon on Bond proposal was rejected by the city of Grand Rapids. Also, in the coming month, GRTV will air a program with Grand Rapids City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss on the strip club .

Since the club was approved in December of 2004 when the city acknowledged that it could not legally block its construction, it has been the subject of controversy with City Commissioners and community groups expressing their opposition to the project amid concerns about the sexual violence that accompanies strip clubs and the fact that the club will continue to perpetuate the degradation and objectification of women. In August of 2005, the City Commission passed a resolution condemning “live nude entertainment” due to the efforts of the Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community. Their successful organizing has led to the City Commission’s consideration of regulations for “adult entertainment” in Grand Rapids with a draft resolution being proposed by the City Attorney that would ban all nude “entertainment,” require strippers to perform on stages eighteen inches off the ground and sixteen feet away from patrons, and prohibit physical contact between employees and customers. A DJ from Parkway Tropics, a strip club located in a largely residential neighborhood on the Westside of Grand Rapids, has referred to Black Hills neighbors groups as “old hags” and has suggested that they can “go f—k themselves” on an internet message board promoting sexploitation clubs, while other club owners have hinted that they will pursue a legal challenge to any such resolution.