Gay Clubs Not the Only Targets

City enforcement on eve of Pride Weekend hit 13 establishments, most straight.

By: PAUL SCHINDLER | City inspections and closings of nightlife businesses that took place on New York City's gay pride weekend do not appear to have singled out gay establishments.

On June 27, the police department's legal unit temporarily closed Pacha and Marquee, two Manhattan nightclubs scheduled to hold gay parties that weekend, after undercover police officers made drug buys in them. Following the closings, organizers scrambled to move the gay parties to other venues.

A detective, identified in court records only by a number, bought cocaine from two different Marquee employees seven times since January 5. In Pacha, undercover officers made ten drug buys, including cocaine, special K, marijuana, and ecstasy, since August 11 of last year.

In such closings, police obtain a temporary restraining order closing a business from a judge after presenting evidence of illegal activity. The law gives the owner three business days to contest the restraining order, but the police practice of shutting clubs on Friday evenings has the effect of depriving the businesses of the weekend's revenues.

Separately, a “multi-agency response to club hazards,” or MARCH, team inspected 11 bars or clubs on June 27, including seven in Manhattan and four in Brooklyn, according to the police department. Only one of those businesses, Splash on West 17th Street, is known to serve a gay clientele.

The MARCH team included inspectors from the city's police, fire, health, buildings, and consumer affairs departments. When they inspect, the teams effectively take control of the premises and the inspections are often done when the businesses are busy. Owners see the inspections as excessive.

The closings and inspections were a topic at a July 10 meeting of the Stonewall Democrats of New York City, a gay political club, and some candidates who were seeking the club's endorsement were asked about the police activity.

Tom Shevlin, a Stonewall board member, authored an editorial in the New York Blade decrying the closures and the Splash inspection.

“I still can't understand why they would choose Pride as the time to close Pacha and Marquee,” he told Gay City News. “Why would they choose to close straight clubs when straight people weren't going to be there at all?… At the very best, they were being really insensitive.”

It took weeks and repeated phone and email inquiries from Gay City News to several city agencies to learn the scope of the MARCH team inspections on June 27. Police did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

While police do not appear to have targeted gay businesses on that weekend, their continued inspections and closings of nightlife establishments are seen as objectionable.

“When zero tolerance is your starting point it allows for excess,” Shevlin said. “There needs to be reasonable appreciation for the fact that this is why we live here in the first place… It's destructive to the economy and it's damaging to the community that lives here.”

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who represents a small part of Chelsea and much of the West Village, contacted Gay City News on July 14 to learn what the paper knew about the closings and inspections.

“I do think that there is concern about what the balance is between insuring public safety and the manner in which enforcement, of any kind, is enacted,” Glick told the newspaper on August 5. “They say they want to have a city that encourages tourism and provides a vibrant nightlife then there are these enforcement issues… It's about balancing the impact, not just on neighbors, but also on people who go to the clubs.”

The gay community can be very sensitive to anything that smacks of disparate treatment of its members or institutions.

In 2005, several Chelsea gay bars complained that the 10th Precinct, the police precinct that patrols that neighborhood, was targeting them for repeated inspections and fines.

“I would be particularly concerned if there was a targeting of establishments,” Glick said. “The administration has a somewhat mixed record in its approach to the community.”