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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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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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