Milwaukee Gay Arts Center has filed a claim against the
city, contending it committed a civil rights violation
by shutting down performances of a touring musical revue.
An ordinance requiring a city theater license
was selectively enforced against the center last week
for a presentation of Naked Boys Singing because it
is a gay organization, according to the claim filed
Tuesday by attorney Richard Hart on behalf of the
group. The claim said such a permit was never required
for other productions in the past and that numerous other
venues typically present theater performances without
one. It contends that, even though the production
contains nudity, that was no excuse for the city to
shut it down Thursday.
The presentation was halted Thursday when
officers from the Milwaukee Police Department's vice
control division arrived and said the center had
failed to obtain a city theater license, required if a
production charges to see a performance. Anne E.
Schwartz, a department spokeswoman, said vice officers
handled the case because of the musical's title.
A city ordinance prohibits frontal nudity but
exempts theater and other art performances from the
ban as long as they have "serious artistic merit" and
the predominant nature of the business is not intended to
"provide sexual gratification."
The claim filed Tuesday also states that, as a
charitable organization, the center is exempt from the
theater permit requirement. It states that the center
promotes and produces theater presentations that benefit
gay-related groups and that proceeds were designated for
various AIDS research groups and theater groups.
The claim seeks $500,000 in punitive damages,
$100,000 for anticipated legal fees, $27,720 for loss
of ticket revenue, $3,000 for loss of advertisement
revenue, $1,700 for the cost of rights to the play, and
$2,000 for legal fees to date. The center applied for the
theater permit, but the request must be considered by
the common council, which is on break until September 7.
Lt. John Kaltenbrun of the Milwaukee Police
Department vice division likened the situation to a
new bar opening its doors while its tavern license has
yet to be approved and said it had absolutely nothing to do
with the nudity or content of the show. (AP)