Local resident Robert Botelho expressed concern that Bristol’s definition could attract adult entertainment businesses that would be turned away by municipalities with tougher regulations banning such activities.
Concerned by what he read in a New York Times article that asserted a substantial uptick in adult entertainment nationwide since the pandemic began, Bristol resident Robert Botelho did his own research. When he did, he noted that Bristol’s ordinance seemed to be out of step with those in neighboring communities. He brought his findings — and a proposal — before the Town Council at their Wednesday, March 1 meeting.
“The intent of this petition is merely to align with our municipal neighbors of Warren, with their definition for adult entertainment,” he said. “Neighboring municipalities in the East Bay have a more refined definition of adult only entertainment…The Bristol adult entertainment definition is more closely aligned with the legal definition of indecent exposure…As such it is not comprehensive, or an accurate reflection of the totality of adult-only entertainment.”
Botelho expressed concern that Bristol’s definition could attract adult entertainment businesses that would be turned away by municipalities with tougher regulations banning such activities.
He proposed a new definition, an addendum to the existing definition which, as stands, is a PG-13 laundry list of body parts that Bristolians ostensibly don’t want to see in any local “entertainment” offerings. Botelho’s proposed addition is as follows: “and/or engages in the act of entertaining with or without music by dancing, moving or behaving in a manner consistent with mimicking sexual action or seduction with or without physical contact of others with the intent to amuse, please, sexually stimulate or provide sexual gratification for viewing pleasures of legal adults within or outside of the establishment.”
A letter on the matter, dated March 1 and sent to the Council by Steven Brown, Executive Director of the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, called Bothelho’s proposal “Footloose-ian,” saying that it has the “…effect of subjecting to strict regulation just about any kind of dancing or other form of entertainment in the town of Bristol. There are very few plays, films, dances or musical performances for the ‘viewing pleasures of legal adults’ with the ‘intent to amuse’ that do not include any behavior ‘consistent with mimicking ... seduction with or without physical contact.’ That describes just about every love story ever performed, written or danced to. A vast array of classical and contemporaneous arts performances would suddenly be deemed ‘adult entertainment’ on par with nude dancing in a bar.”
The Councilors seemed to agree with Brown’s assessment.
“This seems to be very strict and stringent, based on this language restricting any type of show…dancing…having a good time,” said Councilor Tim Sweeney. Councilor Mary Parella said that she had one constituent with knowledge of the proposed amendment suggest that the language was restrictive enough to impact cheerleaders.
Solicitor Amy Goins opined that the language change was not necessary. “The town can legally regulate adult entertainment through zoning, as we do, as the definition in our current ordinance reflects,” she said. “The Council at this point, if it chooses, can refer the matter to the solicitor's office for a written opinion. I'll give my opinion verbally now that the current definition does not need to be amended, moreover, that the proposed definition would be unconstitutionally vague.”
Sweeney made a motion to table the proposal indefinitely, while Chairman Nathan Calouro expressed enthusiasm for getting a written legal opinion from the Solicitor.
Councilor Aaron Ley took a more direct approach, one that did not sit well with Botelho.
“I think that everybody knows what this is about,” Ley said. “This is about a ban on drag shows. Let's be honest with that…I suspect that there's some people in the audience or people who are watching on TV right now who have spent their whole entire lives having to confront proposals like this. I want to say, sorry that you have to do this again, that you have to continue to come before councils and defend yourselves against proposals like this.
It's especially troubling the proposals like this are coming before us when there's violence against drag performers in this country.”
Ley specifically referred to the Club Q shooting that occurred in November, 2022 in Colorado, where five were killed and 25 were injured by a gunman who now faces bias-motivated murder charges.
“I think this is a cut and dry issue,” Ley concluded, reasoning that he didn’t support getting a legal opinion on the request. “I think we ought to reject this proposal right here.”
Botelho objected to Ley’s suggestion that his proposal had any connection to violence against drag performers.
“Your assumption that this has anything to do with any mitigating control measure to stop trans drag shows in Bristol…I have no idea where that came from,” he said. “If you wanted such activity to take place, you could work with the solicitor and define that to permit that.”
The Council voted 4-1 to request a written opinion from the Solicitor, with Ley voting against.