Instantly Illegal, Part 2

At a hearing last week, the City of Miami's code-enforcement board reached a unanimous decision regarding Lambda Passages, the seventeen-year-old gay and lesbian bookstore at 7545 Biscayne Blvd. The powerful board determined that Lambda owner John Drew was in violation of city laws prohibiting the sale or rental of adult-oriented material in that area, and ordered him to remove it within five days or face being arrested and fined. (The seven-month battle between Drew and city code inspectors was chronicled in “Instantly Illegal,” September 14.) “When [board members] walked into that auditorium, they already knew what their decision would be,” Drew says of the September 13 hearing at Miami City Hall.

Lambda Passages carries gay and lesbian literature and a range of titles devoted to self-help, coming out, and religion and homosexuality. Customers can also rent foreign art films. In a specially marked and restricted room, adult videos, magazines, and sex toys are available. Drew maintains that Lambda was informally exempted from the 1990 city ordinance banning adult material along that stretch of Biscayne Boulevard. City officials disagree.

Fred Fernandez, the Upper Eastside Neighborhood Enhancement Team administrator, testified at last week's hearing that when he first inspected the store in February, it contained “all adult material.” But on subsequent visits, Fernandez said, the mixed merchandise began to include nonadult material.

“That's his typical lying fashion,” Drew scoffs. “We have witnesses who will testify that we have always been the same kind of store.”

Code-enforcement board chairman Charles McEwan wondered aloud why no action had been taken months ago when Fernandez first noticed the banned material. “This is an arrestable offense,” declared McEwan, a retired police officer. After viewing recent photographs of the sex toys, adult videos, and magazines offered in Lambda's restricted area, McEwan allowed that it all looked like adult material to him. “And believe me, I'm not holier than thou,” he advised the board.

Another board member added that by carrying X-rated merchandise, Lambda was having a negative impact on Miami's Upper Eastside, an affluent neighborhood that includes a heavy concentration of gay homeowners.

Earlier this week Drew's attorney, Norman Kent, responded to the board's action by filing a lawsuit against the city. He says he will argue that Miami's adult-material ordinance is unconstitutional, that Lambda was exempt from it, and that the city selectively enforced the law against Lambda. “The city made a decision that's going to cost them thousands of dollars and cause them embarrassment,” he vows. “I'm prepared to challenge it in circuit court and I'm prepared to prevail.”


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