Thursday, March 4, 1999. No. 145

Tom Yeung

p. 9.

Gloryholes covered

Blaine sex panic leads to bylaw targetting bookstore

Men hvae stopped going south for oral sex. That's because local police have been stepping up patrols of a cross-border gloryhole. Or rather a former gloryhole, as Blaine Book Company manager Bob Utecht says the level of cruisy gay clientele has plummeted due to pressure from the bordertown community.

There have been the protests by "Sunshine Christians" as Utecht derisively refers to him, as they have dropped off from picketing outside the store during winter. The Christians want the store and the "public perverts" out of Blaine (the store estimates 90 percent of its "perverts" are Canadian).

SUNSHINE CHRISTIANS: Protesters, police and city ordinances are aiming to keep Blaine cruise-free after a sex panic spawned by two sensational alleged crimes around the store.

SUNSHINE CHRISTIANS: Protesters, police and city ordinances are aiming to keep Blaine cruise-free after a sex panic spawned by two sensational alleged crimes around the store. PHOTO C/O NORTHERN LIGHT

There have been police patrols. Utecht says uniformed police officers have been regularly patrolling the inside of the store since December, sometime pulling people from booths. Utecht says his gay clientele has dropped dramatically as a result.

Then there is the city bylaw, or ordinance, adopted Sep 16 with the Blaine Book Company in mind. The pornography store and its 25-cent video booths are now playing chicken with city council over the ordinance which the bookstore's proponents says intend to drive them out of business.

"It's typical rightwing bullshit," says Utecht.

The ordinance requires the bookstore to take out an Adult Entertainment Licence. It requires the store to remove all the doors from the video booths. It requires the store to close up the holes on the wall between each booth. All employees have be to be fingerprinted and photographed.

The doors and holes are gone, but the store is still not in compliance with other aspects of the ordinance, effectively operating without a proper licence.

Utecht blames city hall and the police, whom he accuses of homophobia (Utecht is straight). Passing the onerous ordinance was the city's idea, he says, while the local Peace Arch Ministerial Association (a coalition of six Christian churches) hopped on board with public protests.

Blaine police chief William Elfo says his only concern is safety. Previously booths could be locked from the inside. And he says the city's concerned about possible disease from semen on the floor.

Elfo, who denies Utecht's accusations of homophobia, says he doesn't want to close the bookstore. He just wants to keep illegal public sex out of his city.

"We never tried to attack their ability to sell those materials," he says. "We wanted to change the character of the business where it wouldn't lend itself to that kind of activity."

The bookstore has been operating since the 1960s. Elfo admits there's never been a crackdown to the extent as the one now.

Both sides agree that the city ordinance was spawned from two sensational alleged sex crimes linked to the store. Elfo said police had little interest in the store until those events happened.

In Feb 23 a woman reported to police she was raped by a male aquaintance in one of the video booths. Both she and the suspect were visiting Canadians.

Whatcom County prosecutors (the regional authority over Blaine) declined to prosecute the misdemeanor case.

And in July a customer who left the bookstore allegedly tried to solicit sex from an under-aged girl in the park next door. The man has since been charged.

Utecht says the store is intentionally flouting the ordinance. The drafting process was unfair, he says, because police came to the bookstore to take its measurements shortly before the ordinance was drafted, just to make sure the store would violate it (a claim denied by Elfo).

Utecht is waiting for the city to actually cite the store for violations. He wants to fight the citation in court.


CREATED: AUG 6, 1999