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Lima Law Declared Unconstitutional;
41 Arrests Made At Gay Bar Dismissed
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 24, 1990
In its first victory, the newly formed Gay/Lesbian Rights
Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has won
dismissal of all charges filed against 41 people arrested during
a June raid on a gay bar in Lima.
On June 10, Lima police raided The Office Bar, arresting 41
patrons, the manager and the bartender on charges of "visiting a
disorderly house." Police wore latex gloves during the raid and
one of the officers called the bar an "AIDS place."
In a ruling handed down on September 19, Judge William B.
Lauber of the Lima Municipal Court said the city's law against
visiting a "disorderly house," defined as a place operated for
the purpose of "lewdness," was unconstitutionally vague. He also
ruled that the charges against the patrons violated the due
process clauses of both the United States and Ohio constitutions.
"This will help insure that gay men and lesbians are not
harassed simply because the police do not like what they do,"
said Jerry Bunge, the chair of the ACLU's Gay/Lesbian Rights
Project in Ohio, which represented the 41 patrons.
"The bottom line of this case is that the police apparently
thought a gay bar was a lewd place," Bunge said, "and this ruling
will help to make sure that does not happen again."
The Ohio Gay/Lesbian Rights Project was formed recently to deal
with legal, educational and political issues affecting gay men
and lesbians in the State of Ohio. "This sort of bar raid is
something we all thought died out years ago," said Loretta
Mikolaj, the project director. "It is just astonishing to find it
is still going on in Ohio."
In its successful motion to dismiss, the ACLU argued that
patrons of gay bars are engaged in a form of expressive activity
protected by the first amendment. Establishments where gay men
and lesbians congregate represent much more than bars, the motion
said, because gay persons rarely have had the opportunity to
gather as a group in a political or social meeting place.
"All around the country lesbians and gay men are increasingly
the victims of government harassment," said William B.
Rubenstein, the director of the national ACLU Lesbian and Gay
Rights Project, which joined the Ohio case. "Just in the past few
months, ACLU affiliates have handled situations as diverse as
police officials in South Carolina filming the state's gay pride
parade and a police raid on the Iowa Men's Festival.
"The municipal court in Lima has sent out the clear message
that such unwarranted harassment of gay people is not
constitutionally tolerable," Rubenstein said.