Feel Coppers

The city council weighs a serious new sex law

Yuck. There's stuff I just don't want to know about people.

When I served on the editorial board of a no-longer-extant major metropolitan daily newspaper in Dallas, I learned that certain people like to confess very personal things about themselves. On occasion a visitor who had come to talk to us about some very prosaic issue like setback requirements for low-rise residential developments would open by saying, "First there is something about my personal life that I think you need to know."

My boss at the time, Lee Cullum, had her own way of dealing with it. Before a visitor could blurt anything really embarrassing, she would raise one hand sternly and say, "I know this is an important issue for you personally, but we must insist on our right not to know."

Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson is proposing new laws to make Dallas the most straitlaced, sexually restrictive town this side of Wichita Falls.
Peter Calvin
Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson is proposing new laws to make Dallas the most straitlaced, sexually restrictive town this side of Wichita Falls.

I'm having a major case of the not-to-knows right now. Barely two months ago the Dallas city attorney announced a settlement with the naked bars around Bachman Lake to protect neighborhoods and bring an end to decades of expensive legal wrangling. Now the city is gearing up to launch a fresh intifada on the sex industry.

The city has persuaded the naked bars to vacate the residential areas near Bachman--a major victory. But now the city attorney is proposing new laws by which the city would go into the sex clubs, even at fully legal locations, and get involved in the specific kinds of sex acts that may or may not occur there.

The city attorney's proposal would even require a kind of official peeping post at the center of every bar, dance club, video store, tanning salon and sex-toy shop in Dallas from which a police officer would be able to monitor all activities.

"There is no question that right now there is an attempt along a broad front to further restrict sexually oriented businesses," says Michael Jung, an attorney who has represented a variety of clients against sex club locations. Jung readily agrees that the city attorney's proposal and recent state legislation are aimed inside the sex clubs, focusing not on location but on "lewd behavior" the proponents want to see stopped under penalty of law.

Web page activist and former city council candidate Sharon Boyd says that specific kinds of behavior inside the sex clubs--especially "lap dancing" and forms of tipping in which men are able to touch seminaked dancers--must be outlawed in a way that makes it possible for police to enforce the law. The city attorney's proposal attempts to achieve that by requiring 6- and 12-foot distances between performers and the audience--bordered by lights or glowing tape--and outlawing personal tipping. The new law would also require lookout posts for cops inside the clubs.

"These are whorehouses," Boyd says of the city's various kinds of sex shops. "For somebody to say he has a right to a lap dance, well, no, he doesn't. If it's something he wants, then he needs to get his wife or girlfriend to do it, but not in a public place."

Freshman council member Gary Griffith of Lakewood and Lake Highlands thinks Dallas needs to enforce the most restrictive standards possible on the sex industry. "We need to have among the most rigorous community standards in the country for operation," he says.

City Attorney Madeleine Johnson has been out of the country and unavailable for comment on her proposed sex ordinance. Executive Assistant City Attorney Thomas P. Perkins Jr. says the changes only echo rules that have been upheld by courts elsewhere. He does not deny that these rules would amount to a more aggressive foray into the regulation of consenting adult behavior. But he argues that prohibiting some forms of bad behavior may ward off even worse "potential" behavior.

"If you have public lewdness conduct and violations, if you have potential prostitution cases generated from the touching between customers and scantily clad women, the city does have an interest. Those are criminal activities," Perkins says.

Bachman activist Tim Dickey sees the ultimate goal in all of this as a return to the 1950s, when, we are told, there was no touching allowed at all between dancers and audience. "Candy Barr [a 1950s stripper] wasn't doing lap dances," Dickey says. "When did it slip? What do you allow? What's legal? Under the law we have all agreed on and have on the table, now it's visual only."

I had a number of conversations last week with people in the naked-bar industry, ranging from a very pleasant lunch in the office of Dawn Rizos, proprietor of The Lodge, to a series of heavily mediated telephone exchanges with other operators afraid of being quoted. Rizos said--and the rest of them agreed--that times have changed since the 1950s. (News bulletin?)

No club owners wanted to get too specific about what the clubs have to do in order to attract paying clientele, but I think it's safe to generalize and say that men won't pay eight bucks for a shot of bar whiskey without some promise of touch. It is also the case that the dancers in the clubs perform entirely for tips; the tips are personal and are made in exchange for certain kinds of touch and display; and, without the tips, the performers won't perform.

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