As most Ambush readers know by now, the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) has cited Rawhide and the Phoenix for numerous violations which have resulted in the cessation of sexual activity in those bars. Many in the gay community are outraged by what they perceive as homophobic attacks on safe queer spaces. Others have resigned themselves to the conclusion that the crackdown was probably inevitable. Still others are mobilizing to fight back. Some are hoping things will eventually return to the way they were before the ATC investigations.
While many in our community lament the ending of an era, there has been much misinformation surrounding the crackdowns at Rawhide and Phoenix. Many people have made assumptions that are unfounded and erroneous. And, of course, absurd conspiracy theories abound. For example, one far-fetched theory is that the city would not allow the new Starbucks across the street from the Phoenix to open unless the upstairs bar was closed. Adding to the confusion have been several superficial articles, riddled with inaccuracies, in the local and national media. The common theme of all the headlines is that gay bars are deliberately being targeted. But is this true?
A careful examination of the evidence demonstrates that the undercover investigations of both bars were not the result of a moral crusade instigated by religious zealots or Puritanical politicians or homophobic crusaders.
Despite what many have said, neither bar was raided. Uniformed police officers did not enter the bars or arrest people. That would have been a raid.
Another misconception circulating around the rumor mill is that the City of New Orleans was behind the citations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither the Mayor’s Office, the City Council, nor the local Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board had anything to do with the crackdown. There is no local effort on the part of the City of New Orleans to persecute gay bars.
On September 6, 2018, someone filed a complaint against Rawhide with the New Orleans Police Department, who in turn referred the complaint to the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. ATC is a state agency based out of Baton Rouge. ATC is different than the New Orleans City Alcohol Beverage Control Board.
The complaint against Rawhide, obtained via a public records request, reads as follows:
“This establishment allows lewd public sex acts, including oral, anal, group sex, and masturbation in clear view of patrons. There is also a room in the back of the bar in which people engage in obscene and lewd sex acts. Male prostitutes solicit (including those that may be minors). Drugs are rampant. Wed. Fri and Sat after 9pm are best times to view.”
Within the ATC, the complaint was referred to the Human Trafficking Task Force. The ATC then launched an investigation, which included a compliance check as well as an undercover investigation. On October 5, during the compliance check, an underage operative entered the bar and ordered a Bud Light. The bartender did ask the operative for his identification card, but failed to notice he was underage and served him the beer. According to ATC records, “The business was not immediately notified on the underage sale due to the ongoing investigation into other allegations.”
Two undercover agents were then sent into Rawhide on four separate occasions (Wednesday, September 12; Wednesday, September 26; Friday, October 12; and Friday, October 19). The first visit was for “intelligence gathering.” The subsequent visits were for the purpose of evidence gathering. The agents, whose identities have not been revealed, have a combined 27 years of law enforcement experience. During their visits to Rawhide, the agents witnessed (and surreptitiously recorded with hidden cameras) multiple sex acts (including oral, anal, and masturbation), hardcore gay pornography on multiple television sets, pup play, and popper use.
When asked about the use of hidden cameras and undercover agents, ATC Deputy Commissioner Ernest P. Legier, Jr. noted, “How the complaint is investigated depends on the nature of the complaint.” He further added, “The use of undercover video is a legal and accepted practice of conducting investigations.”
After receiving the undercover agents’ reports, ATC Commissioner Juana Lombard, offered a settlement agreement to Rawhide owner Tom Wood, who declined the offer.
Wood claims the offer involved the installation of cameras throughout the bar, which the ATC could access at any time. The ATC would not provide a copy of or the details of the settlement offer. Clint Taylor, owner of the Phoenix, was also offered a settlement after an investigation of his bar. That offer did not include the installation of cameras.
There is a precedent for installing cameras in “nuisance bars,” a term the New Orleans Police Department uses to describe bars which have generated an extraordinary amount of calls to NOPD for various offenses such as fighting and drug activity. The use of cameras in nuisance bars is voluntary and those cameras are not tied into the Real-Time Crime Center. Rawhide and the Phoenix are not considered nuisance bars. Mayor Cantrell’s office is opposed to the use of cameras in bars in general.
When questioned, ATC Deputy Commissioner Legier, stated, “Every single person or entity cited by the agency is offered a settlement option. The agency is not seeking to be punitive, but instead is searching to achieve compliance. The hope is that the violator is incentivized to work to compliance. Rawhide was offered a reduced settlement option which would require some remedial action. The club ownership declined, and a hearing was held. I cannot comment on the details of the offer as it was subject to negotiation and the terms changed throughout. Obviously, we were unable to come to an agreement prior to hearing.”
An Administrative Hearing was then held in New Orleans on December 19, 2018. The hearing lasted roughly four and a half hours and featured video footage of sex acts as well as attempts to explain away the pornography as “art films” and the claim that management had no idea sex acts were occurring on the premises. Much was made of the fabled backroom and adjacent bathroom. Commissioners questioned why there was a large sign forbidding cell phone use in the back room but not in the front bar. They also questioned why there was no sign on the door of what the defense claimed was an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) bathroom indicating it as such. The defense argued that nudity is not to be unexpected in a bathroom and that bathrooms inherently assume an “expectation of privacy.” But Commissioner Lombard was having none of it, calling the defense arguments “disingenuous” and citing a culture that fostered sexual activity.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Rawhide was cited with twelve violations—eight counts of pornography on the televisions and four counts of sexual activity on the premises—and fined $6,750.00. The bar was also cited for serving a minor. The bar’s license was suspended for 30 days, with three of those weeks being deferred. In other words, the bar had to close for one week. A 60 day probation period was also imposed.
The initial complaint against Phoenix was filed on December 4, 2018. ATC provided Ambush a partially redacted copy of a letter dated December 4, 2018, requesting an investigation of the Phoenix. The text of the letter is as follows:
“Dear Commissioner Lombard and Linda:
“I am writing to request that a confidential investigation be conducted concerning the operations of The Phoenix Bar. Based upon information and belief, lewd and improper conduct occurs on a regular basis within the licensed premises in violation of La. R.S. 26:90 (A)(13) and (D)(1). Particularly, the upstairs bar, known as “The Eagle,” is an environment where there is little illumination and sexual acts are taking place within the view of other patrons and staff and in the bathrooms. . . . . Additionally, pornographic videos are played for public viewing in violation of La. R.S. 26:90(G)(1). On Fridays, they offer “all you can drink” draft beer from 9 pm – midnight in violation of La. R.S. 26:90(A)(15). [redacted] result, its business is significantly depressed, and its customers have started frequenting its main competitor, The Phoenix Bar. I ask that this investigation take place so that all ‘leather’ bars operate within the same parameters.
“If you have any questions concerning the foregoing, please do not hesitate to contact me.
“Very truly yours,
[name and signature redacted]
During a compliance check on January 4, 2019, an underage operative entered the Phoenix and purchased two Bud Lights. The bartender did not ask for the operative’s identification.
Undercover investigative visits to the Phoenix conducted by ATC occurred on December 4, December 29, January 4, and January 11. Similar to the Rawhide investigation, undercover agents witnessed and recorded multiple sex acts in the bar and several instances of pornography being shown on the televisions. In light of the video evidence, the ownership of the Phoenix did not contest these citations. The bar was also cited for allowing smoking, but this charge was dropped when Taylor pointed out the smoking patio. Essentially, the ATC told him to work out the smoking issue with the city, which he did. The bar was also cited for allowing “All-You-Can-Drink” specials (Beer Busts) after 10 pm.
The Phoenix received its citations on or about February 22. An Administrative Hearing was set for March 13, 2019, but that hearing did not take place because Phoenix owner Clint Taylor and the ATC reached a settlement agreement on March 11. The Phoenix was originally charged with two counts of selling alcohol to a minor, fourteen counts of disturbing the peace / lewd / improper contact, one count of permitting smoking, one count of allowing “All You Can Drink” after 10pm, and three counts of displaying visual reproduction of sex acts.
According to Taylor, after the initial complaint against the Phoenix was filed on December 4, a slew of other complaints against the bar were filed with a variety of government agencies at both the state and local level.
On December 30, New Orleans Police showed up at the Phoenix after receiving a call from a customer who claimed to be appalled that the bar was showing pornography. The officers were surprised to see not porn but rather the Saints – Panthers game being shown. The police figured it was a crank call and no action was taken.
On February 15, the State Fire Marshal’s office showed up at the Phoenix and said someone had called them and reported fearing for his life because there was no emergency exit upstairs. Taylor pointed out the drop-down fire escape. Fire officials noted that the escape was not up to code and told him to close the upstairs bar. Taylor pointed out the age and layout of the building made it virtually impossible to bring the escape up to code. Fire officials agreed and informed him they would look into the matter. Four days later on February 19, they returned and allowed Taylor to reopen the upstairs bar. When Taylor asked who made the complaint, State Fire Marshal officials told him they could not reveal that information.
On the same day, February 19, as the State Fire Marshal officials were leaving, Louisiana State Police Video Gaming enforcement officials showed up at the Phoenix in response to a complaint that the bar did not have a “No Minors Allowed” sign posted. Apparently, someone had removed the sign which was posted on the door to the bar. The officer told Taylor he had remembered the sign was posted during a recent routine inspection and told him to put up another one. No official action was taken.
On February 21, ATC issued the Phoenix a summons stating it was in violation of a state law that says “Beer Busts” cannot continue after 10:00pm. Taylor regularly donates kegs for beer busts sponsored by various bear, leather, and athletic organizations.
On February 22, the New Orleans Fire Department showed up at the Phoenix in response to a call from a concerned citizen claiming there were no fire extinguishers at the bar. Fire Department officials left somewhat frustrated after Taylor pointed out all the fire extinguishers in the bar. No action was taken.
On February 26, the office of Building and Permits showed up at the Phoenix in response to reports of smoking being allowed in the bar. This complaint was in addition to a similar accusation in the December 4 complaint. Taylor showed the agents the enclosed smoking patio. Inspectors told him the smoking patio was legal but that he needed a larger exhaust fan. A larger exhaust fan has since been installed. No official action was taken and smoking is currently permitted in that designated area.
On March 11, Taylor and his attorney met with ATC Commissioner Lombard and Deputy Commissioner Legier to discuss settling the charges before going to a full Administrative Hearing. Vincenzo Pasquantonio, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Human Relations Commission, was also in attendance. The meeting was productive and resulted in the Phoenix being cited with three violations of showing pornography, fourteen counts of lewd acts, and two counts of serving alcohol to minors. Financial penalties for each count were reduced with the total fine coming to $3,000. The bar’s license was also suspended for fifteen days, all of which were deferred, which means the bar does not have to close for any period of time. A 60 day probation period was also imposed.
So Who Filed the Complaints?
The question on everyone’s mind is “Who filed the complaints?” It’s an important question because the answer would shed light on the larger issue of whether the ATC is targeting gay bars.
When asked who filed the complaint against Rawhide, Legier said, “The initial complaint came from another law enforcement agency and involved a concern that there were under-aged prostitutes working in the bar.” When subsequently asked who filed the complaint with NOPD, Legier answered, “While we know the identity of the person making the complaint, we are respecting the request to remain anonymous.” Repeated requests and emails to NOPD had not been responded to by the print deadline.
The identity of the Rawhide complainant has not been identified. However, based on what we do know, a reasonable assumption of who it was can be made.
The complaint against Rawhide was filed on September 6, 2018, a few days after Southern Decadence. On Sunday of Southern Decadence weekend (September 2), after the parade, three unidentified women attempted to enter Rawhide to attend an event (a leather and kink demonstration) being sponsored by the Crescent City Leathermen and were turned away, one of whom became very angry when they were not allowed into the bar. The security personnel then called Michael Musa, the General Manager of Wood Enterprises, who spoke to the agitated woman. Again she was denied entry. Note—the Crescent City Leathermen were not responsible for working the door and had previously announced that all were welcome to the event. The previous night—actually early Sunday morning—a different unidentified woman who was denied entry at Rawhide began screaming and causing a minor scene, which was witnessed by several people, one of whom heard the woman shout, “I will call and have this place shut down.”
On September 2, Kristin Coulon, a legal assistant, posted on Facebook “Trying to attend the Crescent City Leathermen’s Kink Demo today at the Rawhide and wanted to hang out a bit early at the bar. I was refused entry to the bar by Rawhide staff because I have a vagina. They said I also won’t be allowed into the demo at 3pm. Let me say this again for the folks in the back: I am being refused entry to a kink and Leather education event because of my genitals, which are covered by clothes by the way. The only excuse I was given was ‘Well…it’s Southern Decadence’ which makes no sense at all. I have contacted the Crescent City Leathermen to see if this is possibly a misunderstanding. That is my hope. EDIT: I spoke with Crescent City Leathermen and was told they are sorry. They were told that it would be open to everyone and the bar now says it is not. I’m still very unhappy about this.”
When Ambush requested an interview to learn more about her experience, Coulon declined and advised us that “The situation has been resolved and I’d rather not bring it back up.”
About a week later, John Breaux, former manager of Rawhide (who was not on site at the time of the incident), ran into one of the women at the Phoenix. Respecting the woman’s wish to remain anonymous, Breaux will not reveal the woman’s name. The woman told Breaux that although she had been denied entry, she did not file the complaint. Breaux theorizes the complaint was filed by one of her friends. In any event, Breaux apologized to her on behalf of Rawhide. In response, Breaux received this private message from her (permission has been granted to publish the message):
“Thank you for the apology, John, but I can’t even express to you how embarrassed and disappointed I was. I had people with me who were excited for the event, excited for how I talked up Rawhide, talked about things I have done there and how far along y’all have come in being more open to ALL Leather people. I had the current International Person of Leather meeting me there and had to take her somewhere else because we happen to be women? For God’s sake, I did a rope demonstration there in October. I got on your stage and I tied people up and everyone had a great time and you know what? Not once did my vagina or breasts affect a single one of the patrons. The two ‘managers’ I talked to were very dismissive and made it crystal clear that I was not welcome there. They gave no solution and no apologies. The only explanation I got was ‘Well it’s Southern Decadence.’ Thank you for messaging me and for the apology. I understand this wasn’t your fault, but I don’t know where we go from here.”
What is unclear is, if the complainant was denied entry due to their sex, why the complainant did not report sex discrimination. Whoever it was possessed knowledge of the activities that regularly occurred in the back room which suggests the complainant had visited the bar before.
It’s safe to assume the complainant was acting out of spite because the crux of the complaint (underage prostitution) was false and ultimately dismissed by the ATC. At the same time, assuming the complainant was turned away due to their sex, it is understandable why they were angry. Louisiana law (statute 51:2247) prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on sex or gender. And finally, some have speculated the complainant was not even in New Orleans at the time of the incident and was reacting to the incident after reading about it on social media.
Whatever the case, the fact remains that refusing a woman entry to a bar just because she is a woman is unconstitutional and illegal. For the record, and as previously stated, the women denied entry were attempting to attend a function of the Crescent City Leathermen. These women were members of the leather community, albeit from out of town. The complaint may also have come from the other woman who was denied entry the night before and who threatened to “have this place shut down.”
While we cannot confirm the identity of the complainant against Rawhide, it is reasonable to assume, given the timing of the complaint (just a few days after Southern Decadence), it was likely one of the women who were denied entrance, especially since one of them threatened to report the bar. It is, of course, possible the complainant was someone else.
The identity of the original Phoenix complainant is easier to determine. When asked to name the complainant, ATC Deputy Commissioner Legier stated, “Prior to and following the hearing, the ownership of ‘Rawhide’ complained of similar activity in neighboring clubs, including the ‘Phoenix.’ More specifically, he claimed that his business interests were suffering because the clientele felt more comfortable patronizing the ‘Phoenix.’ Commissioner Lombard accepted his statements as a complaint and assured ‘Rawhide’s’ ownership that the agency would investigate. Obviously, ‘Phoenix’ was investigated, and violations were cited.”
When asked for comment, Tom Wood issued the following statement:
“At the ATC hearing we inquired about why the Phoenix was given a courtesy call and we were being shut down. We were informed that the Phoenix had no violations and there were complaints about us for prostitution, drugs, and serving minors. When I realized they were giving the green light for the Phoenix to take our business and my employees’ jobs, I cried foul. I am responsible for the employment of almost 100 people and will always do what’s best to protect them as we have for almost five decades.”
Phoenix owner Clint Taylor denies ever receiving a “courtesy call” from ATC before an inspection, but we believe a September 11 routine inspection by the ATC might be the perceived “courtesy call.” While it is true that the punitive measures taken against Rawhide were more severe than those taken against the Phoenix, it is important to note that Wood’s attorney issued the aforementioned statement before the Phoenix penalties were announced. The more likely explanation for the difference in penalties is the fact that the Phoenix accepted a settlement agreement whereas Rawhide did not and continued to an Administrative Hearing.
The identity of the complainants who made the remaining six allegations against the Phoenix to various government agencies remains undetermined at time of print, but additional requests for information have been submitted. The proximity in time of the complaints (six in less than a month) suggests they may have originated from the same source. In addition, the nature of the complaints suggest they came from someone familiar with state and local laws governing bars. A source close to the investigation confirms that at least one of the complaints came from a rival bar owner. During the course of one of several interviews, Taylor recounted a long history of complaints from a nearby rival bar owner.
Despite the perception within our community that gay bars are being targeted, the aforementioned evidence suggests otherwise. When asked directly if the ATC is targeting gay bars, Legier stated:
“The agency denies that it ‘targets’ any permitted location due to the sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, age or sex of the ownership, management or clientele. As it relates to this article, it is important to note that Commissioner Lombard has led the ATC for over three years and has cited exactly two clubs which cater to the LGBTQ community. ‘Rawhide’ was investigated after the agency received complaints of prostitution. The investigation included undercover visits from agents who recorded video of violations. The violations documented during these visits captured images of sexual acts being performed in public areas including the bar and the billiards area (other violations were documented as well). The agency investigates 100% of the complaints it receives. These two investigations were initiated due to complaints—not due to an independent intent to impact the LGBTQ community.”
The argument against the claim that the ATC is persecuting or targeting gay bars is as follows.
First, everything would be “business as usual” at both bars if someone had not filed the initial complaint against Rawhide. According to Taylor, the Commissioner told him that the Phoenix was not even on ATC’s radar until they received complaints after Rawhide was cited. In other words, the ATC investigations were reactive, not proactive. The ATC is obligated to investigate complaints, especially those regarding prostitution involving minors.
Second, the ATC has cited 15 heterosexual bars for similar violations, including: Passions, Visions, Rick’s Cabaret, Hunk Oasis, Stilettos, Karma Sutra, Rick’s Sporting Saloon, and She She’s.
Third, public sex acts in a bar are, in fact, against the law. The law reads as follows: “286. Acts prohibited on licensed premises; suspension or revocation of permits: A. No person holding a retail dealer’s permit and no servant, agent, or employee of the permittee shall do any of the following acts upon the licensed premises: (13) Permit any disturbance of the peace or obscenity, or any lewd, immoral, or improper entertainment, conduct, or practices on the licensed premises.”
Fourth, Commissioner Lombard, who heads the ATC, has no history of “going after” gay bars. Lombard was appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards to serve as Commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control in December of 2015. Commissioner Lombard, a native of New Orleans is an attorney and has an MBA from Loyola University. Prior to her appointment as Commissioner, Lombard served as a criminal magistrate commissioner for Orleans Parish for five years. Additionally, Lombard served four years on the New Orleans City Alcohol Beverage Control Board.
Fifth, for years, routine annual inspections of both bars have not resulted in the actions taken recently by the ATC. Earlier in September of 2018, during a routine compliance check at the Phoenix, ATC authorities strongly suggested they remove the sling from upstairs because of potential health code violations, but no citations were issued to the bar.
Sixth, although the ATC could have legally shut down both bars, it did not do so. At one point during the Rawhide Administrative Hearing, an exasperated Commissioner Lombard told Tom Wood and his attorney, “six counts [of disturbing the peace and lewd improper conduct] and eight counts of pornography is more than enough to yank your license.” But she didn’t. In fact, despite being highly annoyed at the hearing, she dismissed numerous violations and even allowed the bar to remain open over the busy Christmas and New Year’s Eve week.
The City’s Reaction
On Feb. 27, 2019, the New Orleans Human Relations Commission, which falls under the auspices of the Mayor’s office, issued the following statement in support of the New Orleans gay bars cited by the ATC:
“We are aware of the recent enforcement actions taken against The Phoenix, The Rawhide, and others. We stand with our LGBTQ+ residents and our LGBTQ+ owned businesses and we always will. These enforcement entities are not under the City’s control, but we are concerned whenever our residents feel targeted. We are actively engaging all involved and will continue to do so.”
In addition, Taylor reports that several New Orleans City Councilpersons reached out to him to express their support and assure him the city was not targeting gay bars.
On February 23, the Phoenix published this statement on its Facebook page:
“We want to take this moment to thank everyone for the outpouring of support from our incredibly loyal and beloved Phoenix family. You’ve been in our corner for more than 35 years now, and we have overwhelmingly felt that support these past few days, too. On Thursday afternoon, ATC cited us that we were in violation of some state laws. The citations were not unlike what we have seen them recently give other gay bars. We plan on attending our hearing and stating our case. We feel it’s important to state the bar was not raided. Patrons were not arrested. Our queer ancestors were dragged out of our safe spaces and sanctuaries by law enforcement. They were arrested. They lost their jobs, families and friends. They were assaulted. And as we saw at Upstairs Lounge and Pulse, they lost their lives. It’s important that we state clearly what happened on Thursday, and what our ancestors fought for and persevered are two different things. But the fight is the same. An attack on one of us is an attack on all us. We hope you stand with us. We hope you stand with Rawhide. Our LGBTQ+ community in New Orleans is one full of so many beautiful people. We have been so honored to be a part of this community for more than 35 years. We love hosting the local queer groups for monthly fundraisers and special events.”
Despite this eloquent and heartfelt sentiment, business at both bars has declined. Some regular patrons, especially those still in the closet, are reluctant to patronize the bars for fear of being arrested or otherwise outed by authorities. These fears are not justified but they are real, nonetheless. Both bars did well over Mardi Gras, but a big question mark still looms over Southern Decadence.
Held annually over Labor Day weekend, Southern Decadence is the biggest draw of the year for LGBT+ visitors. Last year, over 300,000 people came from out of town to attend Southern Decadence. Since the crackdowns at Rawhide and the Phoenix, many Southern Decadence devotees from out of state have taken to social media to declare they will not be coming back this year. That remains to be seen.
If attendance drops significantly, so will Southern Decadence’s economic impact, which in recent years has hovered around the $280 million mark. Longtime Phoenix bartender Wayne Hendon summed up the thoughts of many when he said, “It’s a lot of bullshit. It’s taking the fun out of New Orleans. Why would people want to come down for Decadence?”
Some members of the community have spearheaded email and letter-writing campaigns to the Governor’s office since he appoints the head of the ATC. But a deluge of messages to the Governor demanding we be allowed to have sex in bars is likely to fall on deaf ears, as are demands that ATC not investigate allegations of child prostitution. Governor Edwards, a Democrat, is the LGBT-friendliest governor our community has had in decades and is facing a tough reelection campaign. Even if there was something he could reasonably do, it is unlikely he would risk alienating the huge block of conservative voters he needs to win reelection, especially since there is really nothing he could do except endorse statewide legislation that would exempt New Orleans from the law that makes sex in bars illegal. Plus, considering his opposition, he knows LGBT+ voters (and more specifically gay men) have no one else to vote for when they get in the voting booth.
On a positive note, after meeting with Taylor and Pasquantonio, Commissioner Lombard is willing to open a dialogue to hear and address the concerns so many in our community have expressed concerning the loss of queer spaces. Both Taylor and Pasquantonio are convinced Commissioner Lombard is open to exploring possible solutions to the dilemma both bars are now facing.
More than a few people have raised the possibility of turning the bars into private clubs. That is not as easy as it sounds. Private sex clubs operate legally because they do not have liquor licenses. The practical question is a financial one—would the revenue generated by membership fees make up for the lost revenue from a lack of liquor sales?
As for turning the Phoenix into a private club, Clint Taylor isn’t sure. The possibility of a private club upstairs at the Phoenix is further complicated by the fact that the bar’s liquor license covers the entire address, of which the upstairs is a part.
Still others have noted the need for a bathhouse to open.
Zooming the focus out from the recent issues at Rawhide and Phoenix, it is worth noting there has been, in the last year or so, talk of “cleaning up the French Quarter.” One recalls City Councilperson Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s crusade against the strip clubs a few years ago. More recently, Lieutenant Governor Nungesser has proposed that the French Quarter be designated a state park. Such efforts are not new. Throughout the twentieth century, the Quarter has survived a number of “purges.” Sometimes, the efforts are successful but usually, the effects are not enduring.
All of this, of course, raises the much larger issue of “moral policing,” and raises questions about the efficacy of obscenity laws. Repealing such laws from the books is unlikely given the extremely conservative nature of Louisiana’s electorate. One solution might be to amend the state statute to exempt New Orleans or to have each parish determine its own “community standards.” But again, such an effort would have to overcome the strong objections of religious conservatives and the Republican Party.
Whether or not the Rawhide and Phoenix will ever return to “business as usual” remains to be seen. In the meantime, those lost spaces represent a loss of gay culture bemoaned by many. And the truly sad fact is those losses appear to have come at the hands of members of our own community.
There may be an effort to clean up the French Quarter, but it’s not being motivated by homophobia.