Porn Free

The city's war on sex shops has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with development. Especially around Times Square.

Dykstra points out that her BID was "instrumental in the liberalization of the zoning," opening it up to allow four or five new businesses to locate in the Times Square area. But just because a business is legally able to operate doesn't mean landlords will be willing to allow it in. And the BID has been aggressive in discouraging its members from renting to sex shops. Dykstra even suggested using "guerrilla tactics similar to ACT UP" to pressure landlords. (This was back in 1992. "I became educated during this process, and I'm not ashamed to say that," she points out.)

Zoning is only one weapon in the city's arsenal to clean up Times Square. The mayor's midtown enforcement unit has been particularly aware of gay bars in the area, and in the past four years, three have been padlocked. Just last month, police staged a midnight raid on Cats, described by several patrons as the only bar in Times Square that welcomed drag queens. As writer Bruce Benderson heard it through the grapevine, "the cops had guns, everyone had to put their hands on their heads, and everyone was searched." When police found drugs -- mostly joints -- on four people, the bar was closed, leaving a gay scene that consists of only two bars, where, as one former patron of Cats put it, "you feel like you're in a gay bar trying to act straight." (This in an area that has been a mecca for gay nightlife since the 1920s.)

The raids on bars and closings of gay theaters are part of an image makeover so exacting that even billboards in the new Times Square have been taken down for being too racy -- or too political. This sanitizing strategy of the midtown BIDs is best summed in the affidavit filed by the 34th Street Partnership (on whose board the Daily News sits): "Even a single pornographic video store . . . has a demonstrable impact on the quality of life and economic development of a block."

The take-no-prisoners attitude held by powerful players in the city's economy explains why, when sex shops began to alter their stock to exempt themselves from qualifying as adult businesses, Supreme Court Judge Stephen Crane mused that the designation ought to be based on "common sense" -- a classically vague criterion for a constitutionally protected activity. "What I'm listening to is unreal," says Siegel. "It has been like a bad dream, but it's not."

How far will Siegel's nightmare go? Insiders say the Times was not amused by Giuliani's recent comments about wanting to see all sex shops in the city closed. But given its support for the mayor's antiporn crusade (and that of other First Amendment champions like the Broadway theater community), who will stick up for adult businesses when developers try to push them out of even the zoned areas, especially along the Downtown waterfront, where erotic enterprises will inevitably collide with the changes produced by newly created parkland.

"The enemy of the sex shops has always been economic development," says Bill Stern, the UDC chairman who got the city's Board of Estimate to approve the 42nd Street Development Project back in 1982. "And I would argue that the force of postindustrial America is making it impossible in the middle of the city for there to be a business like a sex shop." Of course, Stern is quick to add that, as a Christian, he believes such enterprises "corrode the human person. But that's not why the Times is against them. The Times wants its property values to go up, and the city wants its revenues. It's an alliance between the bluenoses and the supercapitalists."

Not so different, perhaps, from the coalition that inspired Fiorello LaGuardia to banish burlesque to New Jersey, or the interests that prevented gay bars in the Village from opening east of Seventh Avenue. The only difference in this crackdown is its rationale. Instead of righteous moralisms, it comes accompanied by a rhetoric of civic salubrity and neighborhood stability that obscures an ominous fact: If a legal business can be driven to the brink of extinction in the name of development, what else can be shut down? What passions will be sacrificed, what sins will be policed?

Research: Simon Rodberg

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
New York Concert Tickets
Loading...