Alex Blaze

Gay bathhouse raided, police find gay sex, police arrest 11

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 18, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

Eleven men were arrested in a gay bathhouse raid in Dallas on public lewdness and indecent exposure charges last week. It turns out that, in the same state where it's illegal to drink alcohol in a bar (a law that's selectively enforced, of course), it's illegal to be naked in a private club.

dallas-police.jpgAnd the gay liaison, who shouldn't consider her job secure in a homophobic police department, is working the public relations:

Laura Martin, DPD's liaison officer to the gay community, said the vice unit raided the establishment on Swiss Avenue in response to a complaint. But police wouldn't say who had complained.[...]

"We've done operations in that club since the late '70s. There just hasn't been one in a while because there hasn't been a complaint," Martin said. "They [officers] were in there for a legitimate reason, and obviously there was illegal activity going on or that many arrests wouldn't have been made."

What she's saying is ridiculous, as we don't live in a nation where the mere fact someone was arrested means that they were doing something illegal. The courts will decide if illegal activity did occur, and at least some of the men who were arrested are mounting a legal defense.

Either way, with all the complaints we hear from the family-friendly crowd about sex in public parks, all the "what if children walked into that bathroom" and "not a square inch of this park should be off-limits to children," you'd think that they'd leave gay bathhouses alone. Gay sex is going to happen, and it might as well occur inside a building instead of outdoors. But that's not how things work in the Lone Star State:

Though it is billed as "a private men's club," The Club Dallas is considered a public place for the purposes of Texas' public lewdness statute, according to one criminal defense attorney who frequently represents people charged with the crime.

Public lewdness, defined as sexual intercourse or sexual contact in a public place, is a class-A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

Criminal defense attorney Tim Menchu said a public place has been interpreted by Texas appellate courts to mean any place "a substantial group of the public has access to."

"Just having to pay a cover charge doesn't take you out of the realm," Menchu said, adding that he would argue in court, "I guess everyone in the world has access to the bottom of the ocean, but nobody's going to go there."

It's still early and people are trying to figure out what happened, why the bathhouse was raided. The police say there was a complaint, but they won't release any details. The article mentions some speculation about the city wanting the property to expand a public transport station, some people in the comments mention gentrification as a reason to shut it down, and I do have to agree that the thought of someone just now getting all mad, after it's been open for decades, and complaining to police about the bathhouse just sounds weird.

The only media outlet reporting this is the local LGBT paper, the Dallas Voice, so there won't be a media storm here like there was in Ft. Worth or Atlanta that will get people talking to their politicians. If anything, the people who frequent the establishment won't speak up for fear of ostracism, and nothing will change because there's still an incredible taboo around gay sex, in 2010 in the USA, and that taboo isolates people and keeps them from advocating for themselves.

All the while some people aren't going to go to the bathhouse anymore because they fear being arrested, and the same sex will happen elsewhere and people will actually be bothered and will complain. You'd think that a society that prides itself in being enlightened and advanced would think of some solution for these people, some acceptable outlet for their desire because gay sex is always going to happen, but, hey, we're not all that far ahead of those other countries we love to criticize for being homophobic.

Anyway, I did find this part of the Dallas Voice story pretty funny:

Of the three individuals whose arrest reports were released to Dallas Voice, one was charged with public lewdness and two were charged with indecent exposure, which is defined as exposing one's genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify and in a manner that is "reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed ..."

Oh my, I do declare! Mrs. Prudemoore and I were enjoying our tea and cake at the gay bathhouse when a ribald character showed us his member. Why, we both just fainted! It was so terrible, such an unpleasant experience that neither of us could have predicted. Fortunately, the establishment's proprietor had an extensive supply of smelling salts, for we fainted at least a dozen times more on our way out!

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OK ... gee, bathhouse sex ... no, I should say bathhouse attendence, for all realistic purposes, is technically illegal in Texas. And 11 men who probably didn't have the slightest clue got arrested under a law that only the police and the lawyers know about.

So in how many other states are there secret little legal gatcha's! that the average garden-variety bathhouse patron doesn't know about?

I suspect that if we wanted to go to the trouble, the Texas law could be declared unconstitutional ... (Texas is so good for that!) ... It seems to me that Lawrence v. Texas was based on arguments regarding right to privacy, and a private club where everyone understands and consents to the rules is truly, legally private, possibly regardless of what the Texas legislature says.

But I'm not a lawyer, I only pretend online ... you know the rest.

P.S. Under Texas law, if I have too many guests over to watch Brokeback Mountain in my living room, and if my guests bring their guests, does my living room become, in the eyes of the law, a "public space"?

I just wonder if they had to call all the police and courts to make sure there were no police or judges in the bathhouse they raided. In that aspect Texas seems to be a lot like some churches, it only counts if you get caught.

No, it becomes a bath house.

I was afraid the answer would be something like that ...

If "Club Dallas" is like most every other gay bathhouse in America, it likely bills itself as a gym, or steam room, or anything but a place to have gay sex. I'm betting it has posted and printed rules barring sex acts, and must be acknowledged by patrons prior to entering the club. Why? because sex in public places is against the law, and both the patrons and proprietors know this. A token membership fee does not work to make a place a private club, and this has been tested to failure in the courts many times. Of course everybody knows that gay sex happens in these clubs, and this is the reason people go. But, people also know, they are taking their chances in getting arrested. Good luck challenging the law, as it predates the existence of this club, and many more across the country. Why did this arrest happen? Simple. Somebody has an idea for a better use of the building, that's all. Don't act so naive about these things.

Maybe in 1970 bath houses were primarily as you describe, but peruse some websites today. Most places self-describe as a 'men's social club' even if they also have a gym or sauna, and most list no rules against nudity and sex. In fact, they often explain that it is precisely a place for such things using euphemisms or other implications, e.g. photos of scantily clad men, sexually explicit techno music blaring on the website, mentions that naked men are to be found, or tags like 'Come here to play' (and we know there are no children's toys or board games on the premises). The point in saying this is that people know what the place is like from the establishment itself, rather than hearsay or rumor. In a phrase, the gay bath house is more like the porn theater than like the seedy bar on the bad side of town.

And given that, using public indecency laws to persecute members of these places is to abuse these laws. The law serves a purpose, which is to shield the general public from being witness to unwanted displays of sexuality. That purpose is not advanced by raiding the bath house. We can agree, as in the case of the porn theater, the people who go to the bath houses are 'the public,' but these people are not being witness to unwanted displays of sexuality, for they heard, by the establishment's own mouth, what was up. If conservative judges have ruled against bath houses before, they were wrong.

Finally, perhaps, one might think the law is intended to dissuade certain types of sexual expression, namely casual anonymous sex, but such a law, as one person above noted, is probably unconstitutional due to Lawrence.

Again, we have to be careful here because apparently laws can be very different from one state to the next. In a debate like this, without looking up a specific statute in a specific state, it's not possible to tell which side is right or wrong.

As in the Indianapolis case of the guy busted for having sex in the bathroom, I'd like to see a copy of the complaint.

How very weird. Here in Melbourne, Australia, "sex on premises venues" as they are known are totally protected by the law and have even been given the right by the Equal Opportunity Commission to determine exactly whom they let in and whom they do not. This is to deter any potential troublemakers from entering. Not that many do in any case. Even the most dedicated religious proselytizer tends to balk at the thought of actually entering a gay sauna/sex club. Sounds like it's all backwards over there. Though I thought the USA was supposed to be the world leader in democracy and freedom? That's the image it presents of itself to us here anyway. Guess everything's not as rosy there as US tourists would have us believe.