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Liquor board suspends Ziegfeld’s/Secrets license

Activists, customers denounce sex-related charges as unfair, ‘silly’

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The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has voted to suspend the liquor license of gay nightclub Ziegfeld’s/Secrets for five days based on allegations that the club permitted its nude dancers to engage in “sexual conduct” prohibited under the city’s liquor law.

The suspension is scheduled for June 16-20, and will result in the closing of the club during that period.

A spokesperson for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, of which the ABC Board is a part, said the unanimous May 26 suspension vote was also based on charges that Ziegfeld’s/Secrets management failed to put in place sufficient security measures to prevent four separate “altercations” in which patrons became involved in minor scuffles inside the club.

Another charge that ABC Board inspectors saw customers consuming beer 13 minutes after the required 2 a.m. closing time became yet another ground for the suspension, said the spokesperson.

An ABC Board report about the after-hours drinking allegation says the management disputed the allegation.

“We wish to express our sincerest regret to our community, customers and staff,” says a statement the club’s management released Monday.

“We strive to operate under strict compliance with the ABC Board policies and requirements and to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone who enters our establishment,” it says. “However, sometimes things happen that we or anyone is unable to control, and for this — or for some other reason — we have been issued this penalty.”

Cynthia Simms, the ABRA spokesperson, said that Ziegfeld’s/Secrets and the board reached an agreement in which the board did not file as many charges as it could have against the club and the club agreed not to contest the charges at a full hearing.

Simms said the board’s decision includes a $4,000 fine against the club and a 20-day license suspension, with 15 days of the license suspension stayed.

A report prepared by ABC Board Inspector Felicia Dantzler, who filed the sexual conduct charge against the club, says she observed “five to six nude male performers standing on individual pedestals, each performing a sexual act on themselves (masturbation).”

Her report includes a photo she took of one dancer, showing him with his hand gripping his penis. The dark, blurred photo accompanying the report captures the dancer from the shoulders down and does not show his face.

Dantzler’s report says she also saw “patrons, fully clothed, gratifying the performers by rubbing and massaging the performers about the body (not genital area) and the performers did the same to the patrons.”

Ziegfeld’s/Secrets owner Allen Carroll has said the club strictly prohibits any sexual activity by dancers or customers.

The incidents involving the alleged altercations and after-hours drinking took place in February and March of 2009 during the first few weeks after Ziegfeld’s/Secrets reopened at 1824 Half St., S.W. The reopening came three years after the city displaced the club from its home of more than 30 years on O Street, S.E., to allow construction of the Washington Nationals baseball stadium.

Ziegfeld’s/Secrets was the only one of several gay bars and nightclubs displaced by the stadium to find a new location in which to reopen. Strict zoning laws that bar adult entertainment have prevented the other clubs from finding a new home, a development that has prompted some of the customers to criticize city officials for not taking a greater role in helping the clubs relocate.

Two regular customers of Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, who spoke on condition that their names be withheld, said the management and employees made it clear that the club prohibited sexual acts of any kind by the performers and strictly banned improper touching between performers and customers.

The two customers said the incidents in question appeared to have occurred during the first few weeks the club was open, and that large crowds and “some confusion” during the opening weeks may have temporarily distracted staff attention.

“It’s incredibly unfair to blame the club for activity that violates their own rules and which they try to prevent,” said one of the customers.

Veteran D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny agreed with that assessment, noting that he was “outraged” over what he called a “Victorian-era” campaign by the ABC Board to crack down on entertainment performed by and for consenting adults.

“It’s about time we got off the anti-sex crusade here,” he said. “There’s a fundamental question that nobody asks: Were any of the customers offended by any of this? Did any of the customers disapprove? Clearly they didn’t.”

When told that ABRA officials said they are required to enforce existing liquor law restrictions against sexual conduct within licensed establishments, Kameny and other activists called for repealing those laws.

“My main point is we are living in 2010 and not 1910,” Kameny said. “And it’s about time they stop applying the standards of 1910. Queen Victoria has been dead for 108 years. It’s about time they realize that.”

Gay activist Tom DePriest, a retired attorney for the federal government and a Ziegfeld’s/Secrets customer, said he strongly objected to the ABC Board’s apparent assumption that customers and dancers of clubs offering nude entertainment “need protecting” by the ABC Board.

“It’s part of some sort of sex-phobic moral code enforcement that is determined by people who don’t enjoy these clubs,” he said. “If adults want to get together and have nude entertainment, then why is it anybody else’s business, especially people who aren’t there for that?”

Three of the reports by ABRA inspectors outline incidents they observed at Ziegfeld’s/Secrets during their visits there in February and March of 2009. The case reports became the basis of the ABC Board’s charges against the club, according to Simms.

The first incident occurred Feb. 15, 2009, two days after the club opened in its newly renovated warehouse building on Half Street, S.W.

According to the ABC Board report for that incident, a male customer was punched in the nose by another male customer as he walked out of the men’s restroom in what the victim and witnesses said was an unprovoked assault. The report says the attacker, who appeared intoxicated, later told police he punched the victim because the victim resembled a person who had bullied him while he was in elementary school.

Paramedics who responded to the scene treated the victim, who declined an offer of transportation to a hospital, the report says.

The assailant was arrested on a charge of simple assault, and the ABC Board charged Ziegfeld’s/Secrets with harboring a “physical altercation” that involved “misuse of licensed premises,” although the report quotes the victim as saying there was “no way” the club could have prevented a spontaneous assault like that from happening.

One day later, on Feb. 16, 2009, another assault occurred when two women who met in the club that night and became “intimate” with each other got into a fight, with one grabbing the other in a headlock and shoving her head into a wall, according to the report for that incident. Police who were stationed outside the club arrested both women after the club’s staff broke up the fight, the report says. Neither of the women was seriously injured.

That incident happened minutes before ABC Board Inspector Susan Mitchell said she observed two customers drinking beer at 2:13 a.m., following the required 2 a.m. closing time after which consumption of alcohol is prohibited, according to the board’s report of the incident.

Another incident cited by the board occurred March 6, 2009, when a customer described as intoxicated attempted to grab the penis of one of the dancers performing on a platform, according to an ABC Board report. The report says the dancer swatted the man’s hand away several times before the customer succeeded in touching the dancer’s penis. The dancer immediately alerted management, and a bartender and the manager escorted the customer out of the bar, the report says.

While being escorted out of the club, the customer shoved the bartender and later shoved him again outside the club. D.C. Police Lt. Brett Parson, the former head of the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, was standing nearby and arrested the customer on a charge of simple assault, the report says.

The ABC Board, at the recommendation of Inspector Susan Mitchell, charged Ziegfeld’s/Secrets with two counts of “physical altercation” on its premises in connection with the incident.

Another ABC Board report says the “sexual conduct” incidents occurred Nov. 19, 2009. The report says two inspectors, including Danzler, visited the club that night “to investigate a complaint regarding employees engaged in sexual acts.”

The report does not disclose who made the complaint.

“In some situations, individuals that file a complaint with ABRA regarding an establishment request to be anonymous,” said Simms. “Since there is no mention of a name in the case report, I can assume that this is what happened.”

Simms said she inquired about the photo of the dancer in the case report and confirmed that Danzler took it with her cell phone.

The statement issued by Ziegfeld’s/Secrets doesn’t discuss the individual charges filed against the club.

“We’ve served our gay community for over 40 years without infractions with the ABC Board,” it says. “We were forced out of business for three years due to the city invoking eminent domain to take possession of our former home to make way for the construction of the Washington Nationals Stadium.

“After our three-year fight to reopen, which included a difficult search for a new building, we have been subjected to the utmost scrutiny from the ABC Board. Now we have been forced to close for the above stated period of time.”

The statement says that the situation is not a “punishment,” but instead an “injustice.”

Rick Rosendall, a local gay activist, called the ABC Board investigation and enforcement against the club a waste of tax dollars.

“If we have money to pay a single person to spend a single hour in those kinds of places looking for things to be shocked about, then we should abolish all of those jobs because this is completely silly from beginning to end,” he said.

“Anybody that doesn’t want to see these strippers, whatever they might be doing, is perfectly free not to go to these clubs and in which case there’s no chance that it will fall under their eyes.”

Among the members of the seven-person ABC Board that voted for the club’s license suspension was gay member Mike Silverstein, who is a member of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

The full text of the Ziegfeld’s/Secrets statement follows:

ZIEGFELD’S & SECRETS

We wish to express our sincerest regret to our community, customers, and staff.

Due to circumstances imposed upon us by the District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Ziegfeld’s & Secrets will be closed June 16 – June 22.

We’ve served our gay community for over 40 years without infractions with the ABC Board. We were forced out of business for three years due to the city invoking eminent domain to take possession of our former home to make way for the construction of the Washington Nationals Stadium.

After our three-year fight to reopen, which included a difficult search for a new building, we have been subjected to the utmost scrutiny from the ABC Board. Now we have been forced to close for the above stated period of time.

We strive to operate under strict compliance with the ABC Board policies and requirements and to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone who enters our establishment. However, sometimes things happen that we or anyone is unable to control, and for this – or for some other reason – we have been issued this penalty.

PUNISHMENT – NOT
INJUSTICE – YES

Respectfully,
The Management of Ziegfeld’s & Secrets

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Jack Jacobson

    June 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Frank, you’re spot on, as usual.

  2. DB25

    June 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    It also begs the question as to why these female “patrons” from the ABC board have it out for this establishment. Secrets should go back to their policy from the old days when women must be accompanied by a male in order to be granted entry. And Mike Silverstein? No comment. These people on the board have too much free time on thier hands. Get a hobby.

  3. C-dog

    June 8, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    This sanction is ridiculuous and smacks of homophobia. I hope you Fenty supporters are happy. This is his administration and lackeys enforcing this nonsense.

  4. Diego

    June 9, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Wow. Nancy Drew makes a sex tape with her cell phone of a dancer that shows “sexual act on themselves”.

    What is next? Will they have to stop showing porn on the flat screens?

  5. Miss James

    June 9, 2010 at 4:19 am

    I am shocked and disguested at the injustice thrown upon Z/S by the ABC Brd. I personally know almost everyone that wrks there and these are the hardest wrking people that I know. They wrk tirelessly to provide a safe environment for the GLBT community while balancing the rules of the ABC Brd. The employees of Z/S wrk around the clock to keep safety and rules about alcohol & sexual activity respected and honored.

    The members of the GLBT community that is on the ABC Brd that voted for this injustice should be ashamed of themselves as they are part of a Victorian-era enforcement Brd that lobbies rules against establishments they personally find offensive…and probably get a little mental kick for themselves for enforcing their morality on others who dont agree !!

    I want to thank the Staff of Z/S for providing many of us a gay home, where we can be entertained and share a night with our friends, Partners, etc and never be judged for who we love. The Staff at Z/S is above-par at rule-enforcement and I am happy to call many of them my Family.

    I think Veteran D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny said it the best regarding the ABC Brd:
    “And it’s about time they stop applying the standards of 1910. Queen Victoria has been dead for 108 years. It’s about time they realize that.”

    Glittery Kisses,
    Miss James

    • Jack Splat

      June 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

      Who cares if they are the hardest working people that you know. They broke the law, and DC is coming down on them. Accept facts. These people are not being unfairly targeted. All the whining. Just stop it. Own up and accept responsibility.

  6. Duane S

    June 10, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    They were lucky to not have it closed during Pride. Seems the board did them a favor

  7. Jon Royce

    June 19, 2010 at 9:11 am

    I frequent Secrets and I believe it is a well run establishment. Staff and dancers are polite, friendly, well trained and informed. Having been a club promoter for more than 20 years, I can tell you this is one of the finest clubs in the country. I look forward to many visits to Secrets in the future.

  8. rick

    August 8, 2011 at 4:19 am

    i love secrets but wonder if it meeds fire/occupancy codes

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Monika Nemeth to run for Ward 3 D.C. Council seat

First known trans elected official in city

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ANC Rainbow Caucus, Monika Nemeth, gay news, Washington Blade
Monika Nemeth, the first known trans person to win election to public office in D.C., is running for Council.

Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Monika Nemeth, who became the first known transgender person to win election to public office in D.C. when she won her ANC seat in 2018, says she plans to run as a Democrat for the Ward 3 D.C. Council seat currently held by incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh.

Nemeth is a former president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which recently changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. She currently serves as chair of the ANC Rainbow Caucus, which advocates for LGBTQ issues. She holds the seat for ANC 3F 06, which represents the neighborhoods of North Cleveland Park and Wakefield.

Nemeth’s LinkedIn page says she has worked for more than 25 years in the Information Technology field. She says she currently manages a team of software developers for an IT company.

“Yes, I am planning a run for Ward 3 D.C. Council in 2022,” Nemeth told the Washington Blade. “I will be running as a Democrat, so I plan to be on the Democratic primary ballot,” she said. “I will pursue the public finance option for my campaign.”

When asked what she would do differently from Cheh, who is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights and who is expected to run for re-election, Nemeth said only that she will announce her platform at the time she formally announces her candidacy, which she expects to happen in early September.

Cheh was first elected to the D.C. Council in 2006. She is an attorney and tenured professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.

The Washington City Paper has reported that at least one other candidate is considering running against Cheh for the Ward 3 Council seat – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority attorney Petar Dimtchev. Dimtchev received the Washington Post endorsement when he ran unsuccessfully against Cheh in 2018 as an independent, according to the City Paper.

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UDC hit with anti-trans discrimination complaint

University accused of misgendering student

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Emma Alexandra accuses UDC of misgendering her and outing her to fellow students and faculty. (Photo courtesy Alexandra)

A female transgender student at the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 2 filed a discrimination complaint against the university on grounds that it is violating the city’s Human Rights Act by continuing to use her legal name on school documents and class enrollment lists unless she obtains a legal name change.

Emma K. Alexandra, 28, a part-time student who was admitted to UDC in April, states in her complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that she informed UDC officials that she was not ready to immediately undertake a legal name change. She states in her complaint that she has repeatedly asked that her chosen name alone be used on all documents and student lists that can be viewed by fellow students and professors.

She said she understands that her legal name may be needed for legal admissions and academic transcript related documents. But to her dismay, Alexandra told the Washington Blade, UDC officials put in place what they consider a compromise position that identifies her on all public university documents and student class lists by both her legal name and her chosen name.

She said the university began and currently continues to identify her by her male legal name with her preferred name written next to her legal name inside parentheses in this way: Legal First Name (preferred name Emma); Legal last name (preferred name Alexandra).

“This is an egregious solution,” Alexandra told UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. in a July 4 email. “This is the name that appears everywhere now,” she wrote Mason. “Most notable, it’s the name that was displayed to my fellow students and professor during the class I took this summer on Blackboard,” she said, which is an online site like Zoom on which UDC conducts classes.

“This effectively outed me as trans to every other student and my professor,” she told Mason. “I assume the same will continue when I go to campus in the fall and get an ID. My ID will have this name and out me to everyone I show it to,” she wrote. “This is completely unacceptable, disrespectful and dangerous.”

Alexandra said she currently works full time as a Web Application Architect for Bloomberg Industry Group as part of its News Engineering team. She said the company is fully accepting of her using her chosen name without obtaining a legal name change. She said she has enrolled at UDC to take courses she needs to qualify for applying to medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.  

Under longstanding procedures, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates discrimination complaints and usually calls on both parties to consider reaching a conciliation agreement over the complaint if possible. If conciliation cannot be reached, OHR makes a determination of whether probable cause exists that discrimination occurred in violation of D.C. law.

If such a determination is made, the case is sent to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which conducts a trial-like hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it issues a ruling on the case.

In response to a question from the Blade about whether a refusal by a D.C. university to use a transgender person’s chosen name violates the Human Rights Act, OHR Director Monica Palacio said OHR cannot provide legal advice on such a question. But in a statement to the Blade, Palacio said for educational institutions, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on 15 protected characteristics, including gender identity and expression.

OHR’s regulations related to educational institutions “prohibit creating a hostile environment which could include deliberately misgendering a student,” Palacio said. “If anyone believes the statute has been violated, they may file a complaint with OHR,” she said. “OHR investigations are confidential.”

Alexandra said she had yet to receive a direct reply to her email message to Mason as of early this week. But last week she was contacted by phone by an official from the university’s admissions office and from Dr. William Latham, UDC’s Chief Student Development and Success Officer on behalf of Mason.

According to Alexandra, the two explained that her legal name was needed on certain legal documents. She said Latham explained that a software system the university uses to manage student records known as the Banner system, doesn’t support preferred names and currently prevents the school from displaying only her preferred name.

The officials said the university planned to upgrade to a newer version of Banner in October and the new system “may” support using preferred names, Alexandra said.

“Overall, I thought this was a really ridiculous conversation where folks from UDC tried to convince me that they are using my preferred name while also stating that they cannot use my preferred name as it should be used, mostly due to limitations of software,” Alexandra told the Blade. “I don’t think the Human Rights Act has an exception for software systems,” she said.

The Blade contacted UDC President Mason by email on July 20, asking him to comment on Alexandra’s concerns and asking him what, if any, problems would be caused if the university used Alexandra’s chosen name rather than her legal name on the various public, external documents and lists in which her legal name is being used.

“In response to your July 20 email, the Office of the Registrar can enter the student’s preferred name in Banner (via all access screen for faculty and staff awareness), however all official documents, such as the academic transcript, will require the use of the student’s official legal name,” Mason told the Blade in a one-sentence response.

His response didn’t address the issue raised by UDC official Latham in his phone conversation with Alexandra in which Latham said the Banner software system couldn’t currently identify Alexandra only by her chosen name. Mason also didn’t respond to the Blade’s question of why UDC could not adopt a policy like the D.C. Public Schools system, which accepts a request by transgender students to use their chosen name without having to obtain a legal name change.

Alexandra, meanwhile, points out that UDC’s refusal so far to allow her chosen name alone to be used on all public university documents and student lists without her legal name being attached to it appears to be at odds with a May 4 open letter Mason released to the university community expressing strong support for using the appropriate pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

“The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) strives to be an inclusive campus that supports and values all members of our community, including LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming students,” Mason says in his letter.

“Choosing to not use or ignore the pronouns someone has requested you to use implies that person shouldn’t and doesn’t exist and does not deserve respect,” Mason wrote in his letter. “Therefore, we encourage all faculty and staff to use pronouns in their email signatures as an act of solidarity and to foster a culture of respect for every Firebird,” he concludes in referring to the symbolic name used for members of the UDC community.

UDC is governed by a 15-member independent Board of Trustees. Eleven of the members are appointed by the D.C. mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. Three are appointed by UDC alumni and one by students, according to information on the UDC website.

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LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors

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Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

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