Landing on the airstrip at La Guardia, back from Chicago’s Desiree Alliance conference, I overheard one classic and Bloombergian welcome back to New York: the NYPD staged a violent“prostitution” bust at Lou’s, also known as the Hot Lap Dance Club, a private loft club in Midtown Manhattan, and arrested another handful of New York’s sex workers.
It’s now been dubbed the Midtown “Lap-Dance ‘Bordello,” according to one of many articles circulated by the New York Post, one of Murdoch’s yellow rags that will stop at nothing to expose the Big Apple’s sex workers, from the escort “Kristen” of gubernatorial fame to the pro-dommes prosecuted under the recent Dungeon Alley busts. While I’d love to dwell on the inaccuracies of these charges – as one worker and activist at Lou’s put it to us at SWANK, “98% of what they said in those articles was trumped up media hype” – I think it’s equally important to review the past year’s busts for the record, at least those made public
(First, a side note: we can look forward to the Sex Workers Project’s report on raids, maybe they can shed light and policy advice on the matter in the fall).
The raids began this year, to my knowledge, with Scores West in late January, then hit the escort agency Emperor’s Club VIP in March along with a few others related to then-Governor Spitzer. Then came Dungeon Alley’s sordid back-and-forth in April, followed by Pacha, Marquee and Splash on “drug-related” charges in June (more on the connections between “anti-gay” and “anti-sex worker” later), while the mayoral candidate Eric Gioia’s (D-Queens) called for increased policing on Craigslist.com. Now it’s Lou’s and, always, the mounting casualties from both “street sweeps” and the stepped-up prosecution of e-stings on Eros and Craigslist.
By April, Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK) meant it when we declared the current state of affairs “The Pink Scare.”
It’s not just Pink because of the sex industry, either, with bathhouses and sex clubs that cater to us “Men who have Sex with Men” (MSM) dropping like RAID-sprayed flies. As I mentioned earlier, Pacha and Marquee, two straight clubs with occasional gay-themed events when it proves lucrative, were raided during Pride weekend in July, while the infamous Splash barely escaped closure as police piled in. The anti-gay “drug” raids of this year are comparable to the NYPD narcotics raids of 2006, when Avalon, Deep, Speed, Spirit, Splash, Steel Gym, and View Bar were all busted, on drug charges which inevitably point to alleged prostitution-related offenses.
This relates to another point some might not pick up, besides the veiled, bordering on discursive connection between the so-called immoralities of sex work of any kind and same-sex love, that people pull tricks in gay bars, too. It’s a historic connection, factoring into arrests in New York since the raid on the Ariston bathhouse in 1903. Believe it or not, not all men in the bathhouses, or among gay-identified culture in general, are gay. Some are straight-identified hustlers.
To get back to the Scare and round off the all-too-incomplete list of raids and closures, recently it’s been rumored by the Gay City News that bathhouses such as the West Side Club would be forced to shut down by the Health Department, citing drug use, inflated estimates around MRSA, prostitution, and the ol’ “vectors of disease” line.
There is some good news, however. The raids, as old a political institution in New York and as violent as those during the age of AIDS, are finally being challenged by an initiative put forward by the Commercial Sex Venues Coalition. It would revise the 1985 ban on oral, anal and vaginal sex to target solely unprotected sex, but many doubt its success.
I’m afraid the days of seedy New York nightlife are over, ushering in an age of whitewashed Chelsea Piers, industrial straight clubs, and the inevitable Disneyfication of much more than Times Square, a restructuring that gets at the very heart of what some of us have lovingly called our home in New York.