The Great Lesbian Club Wars

Ugly accusations. Cutthroat business dealings. Verbal assaults and handguns. South Florida's lesbian nightlife is beginning to look more and more like a combat zone.

True to Sach's prediction, the situation did turn ugly about two months later. On August 7, Climax, a gay club in South Miami, premiered what would become a regular Saturday-night party for women called "Venus Rising." Clone, who was involved in planning the debut, claims her rival was furious at the Saturday-night competition. Though Clone says she was contracted to do only the ad campaign for the Climax party, she admits she continues to work closely with the club's manager, Gaye Levine.

The following week Cox threw a Friday-night party at the South Beach club Warsaw, in direct competition with Clone's "W.O.W. Bar II" just a few blocks away. The change to Friday, Cox insists, was not in retaliation for "Venus Rising." She never agreed to restrict her parties to Saturdays. "'Girls in the Night' has never limited itself to certain nights and never will," she adds defiantly. "Caroline Clone and I are not a coalition."

Cox does admit that her tolerance has its limits and that Clone and Levine exceeded them by placing an advertisement in a weekly gay magazine deriding their competitor. At the top of the ad for the opening of "Venus Rising," in large boldface letters, readers were teased with this: "Gay Girls Don't Need Cox to Have Fun." Grumbles Cox: "It was when I saw that ad that I knew I could not deal with these women."

Levine says the ad was justified given the snide comments in Cox's Girls in the Night News. The July 15 issue, for example, asked women if they had patronized the South Miami club employing Levine and known for its changing name: "And the World...I mean Cheers...I mean Climax...anybody been there lately? Thought not." Clone, in turn, began distributing flyers for "W.O.W. Bar II" that take jabs at Cox, informing women that while "other parties move all around town, W.O.W." is open every Friday night. "Support the club that supports you," the flyers urge.

The spiteful ads, flyers, and gossip increased tensions along the strip of cafes, restaurants, and shops lining the Beach's Lincoln Road mall, where Clone, Levine, and Cox often run into each other. The inevitable confrontation came on August 9 and involved Cox, Levine, and several friends of each. Who started it is a matter of dispute, but everyone agrees it erupted in the Rite Aid drugstore on the corner of Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue and ended in a flurry of verbal assaults on the street outside. "There were racial slurs and death threats on both sides," says one eyewitness.

Levine, who admits she had been drinking, was determined to reach her car, parked nearby, not in order to drive away but to retrieve a .38 caliber pistol from the glove compartment. "There were three of us and eight of them," Levine recalls. "They were in my face making physical threats against my person. They would not let me back out of the situation. I knew enough about the law not to throw the first punch, but I had to protect myself. The gun was the last resort. What am I supposed to do -- pull out a baby doll?"

One of Levine's friends restrained her, and the mere mention of the gun was enough to convince Cox and her group to back off, according to Levine. Cox refuses to "dignify the incident by discussing it."

Ana Fuentes, editor-in-chief of Fountain, a South Florida magazine targeting professional gay women, happened to be driving by on Meridian Avenue when the confrontation took place. "It was like a junior high school brawl," she remarks. "And what made it worse was that it was in plain sight of everyone."

Fuentes, whose publication sells advertising space to both Cox and Clone, declines to place blame for the dispute, but says she hopes both sides will come to their senses. "This is not a lesbian issue," she reasons. "This is a problem between club promoters. But it is incredibly destructive to efforts to unify the lesbian community. Lesbians are not by nature passive creatures, but that does not mean you have to channel your aggression in such a destructive way. I just hope these women stop this nonsense before they hurt themselves and everyone else."

An immediate resolution of the conflict does not appear likely. On a recent Friday night, Cox and four other women were busy handing out "Girls in the Night" flyers in the parking lot across from Clone's "W.O.W. Bar II" party. Clone warns that she will not be intimidated. "Lisa has got to stop her street tactics because I won't have it," she says sharply, quickly covering her anger with a smile and adding that she would like nothing more than to work out another arrangement with Cox to ensure they don't disrupt each other's business.

Cox denounces Clone for trying to portray herself as a victim when Clone, she claims, is the cause of all the trouble. She points to a letter dated September 9 and signed by Clone's lawyer, Jason Grey, threatening "Girls in the Night" with legal action if its employees do not stop their "guerrilla tactics."

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