As Southern Decadence, Louisiana’s largest LGBTQ festival of the year, kicked off yesterday in New Orleans, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) returned to The Phoenix Bar to deliver a new “Notice of Violation and Summons to Appear for an Administrative Hearing” due to violations they observed during a new undercover investigation conducted two months ago at the end of June. This ATC investigation appears to be separate from the events reported on in our March 26 report written by Frank Perez into the crackdowns occurring at Rawhide 2010 and The Phoenix Bar.
According to the notice provided to Ambush Magazine, the Phoenix Bar is being summoned for:
- 2 COUNTS (2nd Offense) – La. R.S. 26:90A(1)(a) and 26:286A(1)(a) – Vendor: Alcohol To Person Under 21 (Purchaser 18-20)
- 3 COUNTS (2nd Offense) – La. R.S. 26:90A(13) and 26:286A(13) – Disturbing the Peace / Lewd; Improper Conduct
These new violations were observed by ATC agents on two separate occasions Thursday, June 27 and Friday, June 28. The notice does not state whether those are the only dates ATC agents conducted undercover investigations. It’s unclear whether hidden cameras were used to capture footage as was the case before.
Earlier this year, ATC Commissioner Juana Lombard and ATC Deputy Commissioner Ernest P. Legier, Jr. both made statements in support of the LGBT community and that Rawhide and Phoenix were not even on their radar. However, when they receive a complaint, they investigate; and that’s what occurred again.
The Phoenix Bar’s summons cites “upon receiving a complaint, ATC conducted an undercover investigation that resulted in the observation of three (3) separate lewd and/or acts defined as obscenity under the Louisiana criminal code.” Yesterday when receiving the hand-delivered notice, The Phoenix Bar Owner Tracy Deroche states the agent told him the complaint was filed anonymously and couldn’t offer more details. When asked who he believed filed the complaint, Deroche responded he had “no idea whatsoever,” but he does not believe it was anyone associated with Wood Enterprises.
Rawhide 2010 Owner Tom Wood says he’s “sick and tired of people anonymously submitting fake reports against the gay bars” and that Wood Enterprises is not responsible for the complaint resulting in the Phoenix’s upcoming summons.
He believes people in the local LGBT community are using the ATC’s anonymous reporting policy to file malicious and fictitious reports, like the one last September against Rawhide 2010 claiming “male prostitutes solicit (including those that may be minors)” and “drugs are rampant,” which led to the subsequent ATC investigations and hearings, and he wants to stop them.
To that end, Wood shared that he is currently discussing offering a substantial financial reward for the identity of the people responsible for the Phoenix’s summons set for next month. His lawyers are working to finalize the details.
Since both bars’ hearings earlier this year, they’ve made significant efforts to physically improve their buildings, train staff, and strictly adhere to the ATC’s guidelines and statutes. After the ATC’s appearance yesterday, neither bar plan on turning a blind eye to customer indiscretions during Southern Decadence especially since an increase in undercover policing by the ATC is expected and they ask the community to please support them in this.
Yesterday afternoon, Ambush Magazine submitted a Public Record Request with the ATC for a copy of the complaint leading to this investigation. Their stated turnaround time for these documents is business three days.
Despite who filed the complaint back in June, LGBTQ bar owners and managers, as well as Southern Decadence attendees, are concerned with the ATC’s chosen timing to deliver the summons on the day the largest LGBTQ festival of the year in Louisiana kicks off as well as their plan for increased undercover ATC policing during Southern Decadence.
When Deroche reached out to Vincenzo Pasquantonio, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Human Relations Commission, on Thursday, he was told they could meet sometime next week, but that does little to quell the looming concerns of LGBTQ residents and tourists of what the lasting consequences might be for LGBTQ tourism in the city.
Visiting from Colorado for his fifth Southern Decadence, Paul (who prefers we use only his first name) says that “Southern Decadence is about being decadent and free to embrace your sexuality without judgment. No one wants to be walking around in a leather harness and underwear worried the government is recording them on hidden cameras at the bar—It’s wild.”
In the meantime, Southern Decadence is still on—“morality police be damned” as one person wrote on social media. For a full list of event, check out the Official Southern Decadence Guide™ Event Calendar.
We want to know why the ATC waited until the day the Southern Decadence started to issue those citations. If you’d like to contact officials to express your opinion and emphasize the importance of this issue, here is their contact information:
- Office of Mayor Latoya Cantrell: (504) 658-4900 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Office of Councilwoman Kristin Palmer (District C): (504) 658-1030 Kristin.Palmer@nola.gov
- Office of Executive Director of the Mayor’s Human Relations Commission Vincenzo Pasquantonio: (504) 658-4023 email@example.com
This is a developing story and we will update it as we receive more information.