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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 21, 2003

New bathhouse is forced to close

Neighbors�vow to keep it from� reopening

Columbus-A gay men�s bathhouse was closed by city officials less than three days after it opened because the city says it didn�t have the proper papers. The club says the city is scrutinizing them more than other businesses because of threats and protests for neighbors.

Columbus Department of Development spokesperson Cynthia Rickman said inspectors closed Flex Columbus on March 3 because it lacked an occupancy certificate for the building when it opened February 28.

John Logston, who manages the club for Fleck and Associates of Florida, says a new certificate wasn�t needed because the second floor was already a bathhouse.

The city doesn�t require new certificates for buildings that change ownership if the use remains the same.

Flex and its contractor have worked with the city since the project began last year, getting all of the required permits and inspections.

Logston said the first floor, which has been converted from a temporary labor service to a gym, didn�t open with the rest of the facility on February 28 except for a walkway from the entrance to the second floor. This was because he knew that floor had no occupancy certificate.

Logston said the club was �locked in� to the Friday opening date, and planned to re-close the whole facility that Monday for inspectors to finish on the lower floor so its certificate could be awarded.

The Livingston Avenue building was the Livingston Theater until the mid-1960s. It was the former Club Columbus bathhouse from 1974 to 1996. Mark Wolfe, who bought it in 1999, is leasing it to Flex with an option to buy.

Logston and Flex attorney Eric Rotondo of Columbus say the city is trying to hold them to a higher standard than other businesses, and blame protests by an influential neighborhood commission.

�The city is paying picayune attention to the plans and looking at them with a higher level of scrutiny,� said Rotondo, �because the neighborhood commission does not like it and wants to put the place through as much trouble as possible.�

Flex�s general contractor disagrees.

Mike Thornborough of GHM Contractors, which is licensed by the city, was hired by Flex in January 2003 due to passage of city ordinance requiring all commercial construction to have a licensed general contractor.

Thornborough said Flex�s problems come from �prior tenant stuff� and �everything stated by the city is by the book and legitimate.�

Thornborough said he has seen the city deal with other businesses the same way Flex is being handled, �but under different circumstances.�

Neighborhood opposition

The Driving Park Area Commission and the Driving Park Civic Association oppose the opening of a bathhouse at that location. Their objection is not to the gym and sauna, but to the private rooms that are common in gay bathhouses. Flex will have 30 of these small cubicles, which rent like hotel rooms.

A group of 6 to 12 people from area churches gathered each morning at 7:30 from March 10-16 to circle the building, chanting prayers and speaking in tongues. They stopped coming after Flex employees offered them coffee and doughnuts.

Neighborhood activists have pledged to fight the facility until it is forced to close as they did with bars that tried to open nearby.

The Driving Park Area Commission is chartered by the city as an official neighborhood association. These commissions decide matters such as zoning, then make recommendations to City Council, which nearly always follows their wishes.

The civic association is an unofficial neighborhood group. Its president, Matilda Woods Allen, refused to describe their mission.

�I�m not going to speak to you on that,� said Allen, �There�s plenty of record of our opposition to this and that is all you need to know.�

�Our position is no brothel, no strip clubs and no bathhouse, which are about synonymous,� said Allen before abruptly hanging up.

James Johnson, who chairs the commission, said he has never seen so many complaints about a business opening.

�The community uproar began about a year ago,� said Johnson, �but it is not about being gay. It is about children and health, safety and behavior.�

Johnson says the facility is too close to the library across the street, schools and churches. All of those facilities existed during the 22 years Club Columbus was there.

Asked why the sudden opposition, Johnson said the earlier bathhouse was �so low-key that nobody knew it was there.�

Johnson said people became most upset when Logston was interviewed by a local TV station.

�He said there would be sex in the rooms like a hotel, and they didn�t like that at all,� said Johnson.

Johnson also said Flex did not approach the commission for its blessing when it took over the facility.

�We don�t like it for anyone to come into the community and not tell the community what they are going to do,� said Johnson. �They should have come to the commission first. They acted like they were trying to sneak something in.�

Johnson and Allen signed a letter dated February 7 requesting a meeting with Logston on the use of the property.

Johnson said Logston never responded to that letter, and �I don�t like that.�

But the letter and its envelope show that it was actually mailed February 12 to the wrong address, and not delivered to Logston until at least February 22. Logston said he didn�t see it until February 28--the day the club opened.

�It was too late then,� said Logston, who also said that the city knew Flex was moving in by August 1, 2002 when the initial inspection took place.

Wolfe said none of his other tenants ever approached the Driving Park Commission for its blessing, and the commission never protested.

�The labor pool was an eyesore,� said Wolfe. �With all the boarded up buildings and crack houses around here, how could [Flex] do anything but help the neighborhood?�

Johnson said it is possible for Flex and the community to coexist.

�Once they respond to that letter, we�ll see what comes down,� said Johnson. �If it operates like a fitness club does, there should be no uproar at all.�

�Like any house of prostitution�

A third community activist, Clifford Tyree, said the bathhouse is an undesirable �like any house of prostitution or crack house.� He said the facility would be picketed until it is closed, but stresses that he is not acting on behalf of any organization.

Tyree, who has lived in Driving Park 41 years, led the effort that kept the property from becoming a burlesque theatre in the mid 1960s.

Tyree, who persuaded then-mayor Jack Sensenbrenner to establish the city�s Community Relations Commission to address civil rights issues in the 1960s and 70s, said it is not about Flex being a gay business.

�If a gay person wanted to open a restaurant or drug store or barbershop at that location, I would be happy,� said Tyree.

�A person�s sexual preference is their business,� Tyree said. �If it was heterosexual couples doing this in my community, I�d oppose it, too.�

Tyree objected to posters and ads promoting the opening of the club with pictures of nearly nude men. Though he has not been inside, he said he also objects to photos of nude men hanging in the club.

�There is nothing [Flex] can do to convince me they are not a harmful neighbor,� Tyree said.

�Calls were made over this�

The Driving Park neighborhood is predominately African- American.

Ronald Bryant, managing editor of the Columbus Post, a weekly African-American publication, said the black community and black churches have issues of homophobia.

�They don�t tolerate [homosexuality] in their face,� Bryant said.

�The Driving Park Commission is that community,� said Bryant describing the relationship between the commission and city government, �and the city government rarely goes against the community groups.�

�It�s not hard to figure out that calls were made over this,� said Bryant.

Bryant went to the club March 3, �as part of my due diligence to see what it was all about,� he said. He and Logston met in Logston�s office.

Logston said Bryant threatened him that if he didn�t keep the club to a workout gym, �they�re going to find your bloody body in a ditch.�

Logston filed a report documenting the threat with Flex�s security company.

Bryant denies the threat, but confirmed telling Logston to keep the club a workout gym only.

�Until I met John [Logston] in the parking lot, my intent was not to go into the club,� said Bryant, �only to see what it was. I wasn�t there to be an antagonist.�

Ordinance could outlaw bathhouses

Mike Brown, spokesperson for Mayor Michael Coleman, said his office has heard a lot from residents on the issue, and said they plan to meet with residents to discuss the club, but they do not plan to act against Flex unless laws are broken.

�If they comply with the law, it�s legal,� said Brown.

But, according to Scott Varner, spokesperson for the city�s Law Department, the city will need to change its adult entertainment laws by April 15 as the result of a federal lawsuit.

Varner said it hasn�t happened yet, but it is possible that language making it impossible for Flex to operate could be quietly slipped into the ordinance before council votes on it.

At press time, Flex plans to have its occupancy certificate and re-open March 21.


 

Judge awards $1.22 million to beaten Colorado teen

Denver--A federal judge said an attack on a gay teenager was a �damnable� hate crime and awarded him $1.22 million in damages March 13.

Kyle Skyock, 18, was found along U.S. 6 on Feb. 11, 2001, near Rifle, Colorado after a night of heavy drinking with four other youths.

During a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge John Kane to determine damages in a civil lawsuit, Skyock described how four boys kicked and beat him, banged his head on the back of an SUV and hit him with a baseball bat.

�I didn�t think I was going to make it,� the 5-foot-4-inch, 125-pound Skyock said. �I thought my lung was punctured because it stung when I breathed.�

Skyock had a fractured skull, bruising, three broken ribs and a burnlike sore on his left shoulder. Skyock and his parents, Michael and Sharlene, testified Thursday about the medical cost and emotional trauma from the attack.

Kane, who looked at several photos showing a battered Skyock, made several statements before awarding the damages.

�There is no doubt this is a hate crime,� Kane said. �That kind of ignorance and barbaric and brutal attack of any human being is inexcusable.�

Kane said he wished he could do more for Skyock.

�I just want those boys to know they did something wrong and America will take action,� Skyock said outside of court after the hearing. �This is not going to be tolerated.�

Comatose for three days, Skyock initially told police he couldn�t remember what happened, and police surmised Skyock had rolled down a hill near the highway. Investigators looked into criminal charges after a teenager on a school bus bragged about beating �the fag.�

Prosecutors later refused to file criminal charges against his alleged attackers citing a lack of evidence. District Attorney Mac Myers, who investigated the case, did not return a phone message.

Skyock has requested a special prosecutor to look into criminal charges.

Skyock�s family reached an out-of-court settlement with two of his attackers, both brothers, in January, according to Kane.

The March 13 judgment was entered against another set of brothers, Bill and Brian June, and their mother, Jane Jennings.

There was no listing in Rifle for Jennings.

Kane�s award included $41,000 for medical costs, $700,000 in damages, $250,000 against Bill June and $240,000 against Brian June. Kane also awarded court costs.

The brothers and Jane Jennings did not respond to the lawsuit. Kane�s hearing was a default judgment hearing in which one side presented unchallenged testimony.

Michael Brewer, director of the gay and lesbian Colorado Legal Initiatives Project, said the other alleged attackers were Canyon Case and Forrest Magnus.

During the court hearing, Skyock lawyer Julie Tolleson said they settled with those brothers and their father, Gary Case, for $11,000.

Brewer said the settlement did not include an admission of guilt.


McDonalds to appeal $5 million AIDS bias award

Cleveland--The Eighth Ohio District Court of Appeals will decide whether McDonald�s can avoid paying a 38-year-old former restaurant manager with AIDS the $5 million awarded him by a jury in October, 2001.

After nine days of testimony, the jury returned the verdict in three hours in favor of Russell Rich of Akron, who sued the hamburger chain under Ohio�s wrongful discharge law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The jury concluded that McDonald�s fired Rich in October 1997 because he has AIDS. The entire $5 million award was compensatory damages, figured to include the $135,000 per year cost of medication for the rest of Rich�s life.

The jury was not instructed to award punitive damages because Rich was unable to meet the high legal standard of malice required to do so.

Ordinarily, judges can only reduce the amount of punitive damage awards. In this case, McDonald�s is asking the three-judge panel to reduce the verdict, partly because they claim Rich is not disabled.

According to Rich�s attorney Paige A. Martin of Columbus, McDonald�s claims Rich cannot be disabled because during the period of the trial he worked out, looked great, and helped her carry her cases into the court room.

McDonald�s attorney Steve Catlett of Chicago could not be reached by press time.

Martin says McDonald�s hopes to convince the court that Rich also should not be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If the court accepts that position, it could make new law restricting coverage of people with HIV under ADA.

Currently ADA covers people with HIV because of a 1998 Supreme Court decision where a woman qualified because her HIV status prevented her from reproducing, which the court says is a major life function.

McDonald�s claims that as a gay man, Rich has no reproduction issue and should not be protected under the same ruling.

Martin said this type of behavior is typical of corporate defendants with the money to spend on litigation.

�They want to hold on to their money, and maybe hope he dies before they have to pay,� said Martin. �The interest alone on the award is $500,000 as of last October.�

McDonald�s has not paid any money to Rich. Currently unable to work full time and uninsured, Rich can only afford one of the five medications he needs to stop the progression of the disease, according to Martin.

The case will be heard by Judges Patricia Blackmon, Michael Corrigan, and Anne Kilbane.


Lawyers optimistic as high court sodomy hearing nears

Washington, D.C.--Gay and lesbian leaders are optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the Texas same-sex sodomy law before it adjourns for the summer. That assessment came in a telephone briefing for reporters on March 13, in preparation for oral arguments on the case that will be held on March 26.

�It�s a good time for us to get another positive ruling [on a gay issue] and shore up the Romer case� that struck down Colorado�s antigay Amendment 2 in 1996, said Ruth Harlow. She is legal director of Lambda Legal, the gay advocacy group that brought forward the sodomy case known as Lawrence v. Texas.

�I don�t believe that the court can make the same mistake that it did in Bowers� v. Hardwick, she said. In that notorious 1986 decision, the court ruled 5 to 4 that consenting adults have no constitutional right to private homosexual conduct. Harlow believes the court will reverse that decision.

This is likely to be the last gay case the high court rules on before one or more of its members are replaced through retirement or death. Some observers fear that justices appointed by President Bush might be less sympathetic to gay issues.

The Texas case began in 1998 when police, responding to what ultimately turned out to be a false �weapons disturbance� report by a neighbor, entered the apartment of John G. Lawrence in the suburbs of Houston. They didn�t find any weapons but they did observe Lawrence and Tyron Garner having sex.

The pair were arrested for violating the state law that prohibits sodomy between members of the same sex, but not between people of the opposite sex. They were held overnight in jail, convicted and each fined $200 and court costs.

The case rattled around the Texas legal system. A panel of judges on the Texas Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional on grounds of equal protection and privacy, but the full court reversed that on a vote of 7 to 2. They ruled that the law �advances a legitimate state interest, namely preserving public morals.� The court at the next level of appeals eventually declined to accept the case. Judges are elected in Texas.

Harlow said they are pursuing two basic arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. The first is the liberty or right to privacy argument, simply that �the government does not belong in anyone�s bedroom� in matters between consenting adults.

Second is the equal protection argument. The Texas law prohibits same-sex but not opposite sex sodomy. In their briefs, Texas has argued that they are trying to regulate all sexual practices outside of marriage, to protect marriage. Lambda can find no rational basis for such government intervention.

The more pernicious aspect of the remaining sodomy laws is not that gays and lesbians are being rounded up and prosecuted in large number, but that they criminalize a class of people presumed to engage in such practices. That in turn is used to deny gays equal justice in a spectrum of areas from family law to employment.

Harlow said that states �gradually, over time, have abandoned efforts to be overtly homophobic.� As Lambda has argued in its briefs, beginning in 1961, more than half the state legislatures have repealed their sodomy laws. State courts have struck down another 11; and only 13 states still have them on the books. Ohio repealed its sodomy law in 1973.

She was pleased, but not surprised, that the Bush administration did not file a brief in this case. Furthermore, the Texas attorney general had the option of stepping in to assume prosecution of this case, but declined to do so; a county attorney is handling it.

 



News Briefs

Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.

Gay student forced to read Bible passages in school

Jacksonville, Ark.--A 14-year-old gay student, outed to his parents, called �sickening� by teachers and forced to read the Bible aloud, has threatened to take his school to court.

Thomas N. McLaughlin�s troubles with Jacksonville Junior High School began last year when a school official called his mother to tell her that her son was gay.

McLaughlin, who at that point had only come out to a handful of close friends at school, wasn�t ready to tell his parents yet.

Fortunately for the ninth-grader, his parents were accepting and understanding. But since then, the school has done a series of things that led Delia and Thomas W. McLaughlin to contact the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent the school a warning letter March 13.

According to the ACLU, teachers and Principal Brenda Allen told McLaughlin and his parents that he cannot talk about being gay in school. When he disagreed with being called �abnormal� and �unnatural� by one teacher, school officials lectured him with their views on homosexuality and forced him to read the Bible aloud.

McLaughlin was later suspended for telling classmates about the Bible-reading, the ACLU said, and was warned that if he told other students why he was suspended, he could be expelled.

In January, he was punished for agreeing with a female classmate that another boy was cute. The girl was not disciplined.

In their letter, the ACLU demanded that the school stop violating McLaughlin�s rights and remove all unconstitutional disciplinary actions against him from his record by March 21 or face legal action.

Birth certificate can list both moms

Newton, N.J.--A lesbian couple can both be listed as parents on the birth certificate of the baby they're expecting in May, a judge has ruled.

State officials said it was the first time that two women who were both physically tied to an unborn child had tried to make sure they were both listed on the birth certificate. One woman is carrying the child and her partner provided the egg, and they plan to raise the child together.

The ruling issued March 11 by Sussex County Family Court Judge James A. Farber means the unidentified women will share a financial obligation to the child as soon as it is born, and if one parent dies, the other will immediately have custody.

Analysts said the case is unusual because when lesbian couples have a child together, the woman who delivers the baby is usually named as the mother on the birth certificate. Her partner must then adopt the child because she is not genetically related, and the court process can take six months or longer.

Melissa Brisman, the couple's lawyer, said the ruling was a �victory for reproductive rights,� but she doubted it would have a major legal impact.

Brisman said few lesbian couples opt to conceive the way her clients did, and noted that other judges are not required to follow Farber's decision.

Repeal sponsor questions Holocaust

St. Paul, Minn.--Democratic lawmakers filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Arlon Lindner on March 11, alleging that his remarks questioning whether gays and lesbians were persecuted by the Nazis have brought disrepute to the House of Representatives.

Lindner is the sponsor of a bill to repeal a ten-year-old human rights law that protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Minnesotans from discrimination. His bill would also remove sexual orientation as a protected class in hate crime laws.

It also would remove gays and lesbians from a list of Nazi victims. Lindner questions if gays were victimized in the Holocaust. He defended his statements last week, saying the rights law allows homosexuality to be taught as an acceptable lifestyle in schools.

Both House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Gov. Tim Pawlenty said they don't support Lindner's bill, but said they could support a narrower version. Pawlenty said he doesn�t think the protections should extend to crossdressers.

Man found dead after lover stabbed

Moosic, Pa.--For six weeks, Michael Pierson's friends wondered where the shy, conscientious health educator had gone after his lover was stabbed. He didn't get far.

Two men found the body of the gay community leader on March 12 in a retaining pond on a northeastern Pennsylvania golf course.

Pierson, 40, of Wilkes-Barre, suffered a single, fatal stab wound to the chest, according to the Lackawanna County Coroner's Office, which ruled the death a homicide.

The Glenmaura National Golf Club water hazard is about a half-mile from the Moosic roadway where Pierson's partner of several months, Kenneth Stephens, said Pierson had stabbed him in his pickup truck early on January 28.

Police had charged Pierson with the stabbing based on Stephens' account, but they never found him to serve the papers. Pierson was gone when police responded to the scene, and a search of the area that night proved fruitless.

Stephens, who was stabbed in the chest and neck, was released after a few days in a Scranton hospital, police said.

 


 

27 and 10: Mystic numbers

10% Cinema at the 27th Cleveland International Film Festival presents abundant fare

Cleveland--In some cultures, 27 is a magic number, a perfect representation of the mystical trinity, whether the Father, Son and Holy Ghost or mind, body and spirit. It is, after all, three times three times three.

Starting on March 20, however, 27 will mean something else completely. For ten days at the end of March, 27 will mean �Film.�

That�s because the 27th annual Cleveland International Film Festival will run at Tower City Cinemas from March 20 to 30, presented by the Cleveland Film Society. And, much like previous years, their 10% Cinema, the collection of LGBT films being presented at the festival, is an impressive collection of art from around the world.

Alphabetically speaking, the first film in the series is All About My Father, a very personal account of filmmaker Even Benestad�s father Esben, a well-known doctor and politician in their home town in Norway. Esben, however, is also known as Esther Pirelli, sex therapist and actress. This caused his first marriage, to Even�s mother, to end, but all the parties involved reflect on the paths their lives have taken to get to this point, illustrating that Even Benestad�s family is mirrored all over the globe in other domestic dramas.

All About My Father will play on March 24 and 27.

Thematically similar is Georgie Girl, a New Zealand documentary about Georgina Beyer, the country�s--and the world�s--first transsexual minister of Parliament, whose life has included such varying job descriptions as mayoral candidate, singer, actor, drag queen and sex worker.

Georgie Girl has screenings on March 26 and 27.

The next two films are beautiful, intense and incredibly gloomy portrayals of Murphy�s Law, which states that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Coming from Eastern European countries still living in the shadows of ethnic cleansing and civil wars, Fine Dead Girls and Guardian of the Frontier present gay life in an geographic area seldom considered to be particularly gay.

Fine Dead Girls, a Croatian film, follows two young lesbians as they move into an apartment in Zagreb. Things seem okay at first in their new digs, but they quickly learn that there is something definitely amiss in their building, something that could cost one her freedom and the other her life.

Filled with claustrophobic images and bizarre characters, the film convincingly portrays a study in dysfunction. It will be shown on March 21 and 22, while on March 27 and 29, the Slovenian film Guardian of the Frontier takes the audience across the Kolpe River into Slovenia.

There, three girls go on a canoeing trip over a weekend, one lesbian, one heterosexual and one bisexual. Again proving Murphy�s Law, the news tells them that a girl has gone missing on that same river just before they are due to depart. They decide to go anyway, and the next two days are filled with a phantasmagoria of images that may indicate that the missing girl has been murdered, or may simply be the reflections on paranoid minds out in the wilderness.

Where Fine Dead Girls was claustrophobic, Guardian of the Frontier has all the great outdoors in which to paint its tableau, but the freedom allowed by Mother Nature won�t help the trio much as they keep running into a far-right local politician who has very distinct ideas about the proper way for young ladies to behave.

Love and marriage take center stage in the next two films. In the Dutch Shake It All About, Jacob and Jorgen are soon going to take advantage of the gay marriage laws in their native Netherlands, until an idle kiss between Jacob and Jorgen�s sister-in-law ignites a wildfire of destructive passion. Can Jacob and Jorgen rebuild their relationship, or will they be parted forever? Find out on March 21 and 22.

On a happier note, the documentary Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House examines the lives of Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz, two Jewish suburban housewives who realized in the 1970s that their love for each other was more than platonic. Leaving behind their husbands and children in an age that vilified them, the two have proven their love and devotion over the last quarter of a century. Now, the two are fighting a different battle, as they join the struggle to legalize gay marriage.

Their story will be told on March 27 and 30.

From a documentary to a mockumentary, Christian Taylor, one of Six Feet Under�s writers, co-directs and stars in Showboy. The film is basically a British reporter following Taylor through scripted scenarios presented as reality.

Taylor gets fired by Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball for writing bad scripts, then he takes the documentary crew to Las Vegas to research a new project. In the film, Taylor doesn�t know that the film crew knows he has been fired. With Taylor, Ball, BBC documentarian Lindy Heymann and Las Vegas all playing themselves, the movie shows that fiction is funnier than truth on March 22 and 25.

On March 22 and 23, the Cleveland International Film Festival presents this year�s installment of Gay & Lesbian Shorts. Among the mini-films is D.E.B.S., delivering the exploits of high school hotties recruited by the government as spies; Tales from the Powder Room gives the audience the wit and wisdom of Lola Lick, an aging transsexual, and Trish gets sent to dog obedience school in Leave It!

Perhaps the most intriguing film in the 10% Cinema is Lab Ky Mo�s Nine Dead Gay Guys. For �intriguing,� read �rambunctious, tasteless, fabulous and hysterical.� When an incredibly well-hung queen in London dies, it presents an opportunity for two hustlers to get into his partner�s bed, where, it is said, an incredible fortune is stashed. There are only two problems: other people are after the money, and the body count keeps climbing.

Nine Dead Gay Guys will play on March 27 and 28. Watch it. It is really, really funny. Really. Watch it. Or else.

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