Louisville Councilman Used Fake ID in Bathhouse Witch Hunt

Louisville Councilman David James on a witch hunt against Vapor Spa

Claiming he didn’t want to be ‘recognized’ as a city official, Louisville Metro Councilman David James argued he “found” identification on a public sidewalk he used to gain entry to Vapor Spa – a private membership gay men’s health club in in the city’s Smoketown neighborhood. He gained entry as a part of a larger smear campaign attempting to block their proposed expansion entailing a $20 million project called The Village. “Those plans include building a hotel, two restaurants and a 450,000-square-foot event space at the location, which is across from the former site of Male High School,” according to the Courier-Journal.

Though he is a self-proclaimed opponent of sex clubs (gay or straight), Vapor Spa is the only alleged sex club in Louisville he personally visited ‘undercover’ in order to publicly oppose their business expansion.

Wave 3 News reported on James’ comments stating, “James said Vapor’s owner accusing him of attacking the gay community is ridiculous. He said gay or straight, with no laws on the books here, a discussion about sex clubs should be had before allowing the developer to close alleys around the complex for a planned $20 million expansion.”

Perhaps more telling about James’ position on the LGBTQ community is the argument he used against the facility’s existence:

James said, according to the CDC, about 20 percent of the men who have sex with men in Louisville, who have been investigated by the health department and have an STD, admit to visiting Vapor.

“We have issues of sexually transmitted diseases according to the health department coming through there. But the bigger problem is this is a place that advertises and suggests lude behavior at its location,” James said.

Those who study modern history know this is the exact same argument used against the LGBTQ community at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Citing a percentage of a population as having an STD and pointing out that they have been at any facility – sex club, grocery store or church – does not mean they contracted that STD at that location. Those 20% of men could have contracted an STD literally anywhere; the CDC does not capture that information. For James to disingenuously cite that statistic as a reason to attack a business isn’t just misleading, it’s downright homophobic.

Developer George Stinson – also a part owner in the spa – echoed this in his statements on James’ correlating the two. “What percent of those men also went to church on Sunday or visited the grocery store? I have operated gay businesses for 40 years and every one has been called a sex club. It never stops,” he said.

He also touched on the legality of presenting falsified identification to enter the spa.

“If you’re falsifying who you are, you have something to hide,” Stinson said. “That violates what we have put our mission to be, a private male club.”

James defended his use of someone else’s identification arguing, “I thought if I used my name that I may not be able to gain access to find out what’s actually going on there.” He added, “Had I not been able to actually see what was going on in there, we would have to depend on him saying, ‘no, nothing is going on there, this is a spa, health club,’ which in fact it’s not.’”

James should already know the law surrounding this as he is a former Louisville police officer.

James’ post law enforcement political career is already marred by scandal though including his support for an embattled council woman involved “in an ex-offender program she helped set up and by directing public funds to a neighborhood group she was involved with.

Here’s a brief synopsis of that debacle.

Suffice to say, James isn’t above reproach. Moreover, the spa isn’t even in his own district. The actual council person for that district has all but told James to stand down.

The Courier-Journal noted this reporting:

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, who represents the 4th District where the spa is located, said she supports Stinson’s development project. She said she is aware of James’ concerns but that another committee or agency would be a better forum for that discussion.

“If there’s questions about the type of business or activity that will be taking place there, that can be discussed,” Sexton Smith said. “I don’t think it’s to be discussed in planning and zoning.”

Moreover, the spa has been open for about three years and in that time has abided by all local and state laws.

This is aside from the fact that bathhouses typically offer individuals – gay, straight or otherwise – safer alternatives to have sex. That means safer in terms of chances of contracting an STD and in terms of physical safety. Most bathhouses offer free condoms and private spaces where sexual activities are hidden from public view.

Louisville health director Dr. Joann Schulte echoed these remarks commenting on James’ witch hunt.

“Why would you treat them any differently than some of the other entertainment venues where people meet one another and they decided they’re going to become sex partners,” she asked pointing out James’ use of CDC figures. “There are clubs that cater to heterosexuals and there are clubs that cater to men who have sex with men.

“The issue is if you are heavy-handed, you can drive some of the (men who have sex with men) activity underground and we really don’t want to do that,” Schulte added. “I’m not going to get into legislating morality.”

This meant little to James as he admittedly used fake identification to gain access to the private membership, 18+ club in order to “witness” what was going on so he could in turn use that information to enforce morality over reason. (It should be noted that while bathhouses are not explicitly illegal in Louisville, using someone else’s identification is – particularly if use of that other person’s identification is for the purpose of “avoiding detection”.)

Despite his objections and surreptitious visit to the spa to document activity that isn’t illegal, James lost when the issue came to a vote.

WHAS 11 reported today, “Council members voted to approve the zoning for the 20 million dollar project. Construction will continue. James did abstain from voting, but wants to further address whether or not sex clubs in general should be allowed in Louisville.”

If you want to reach out to the Louisville City Counsel to support sex positive businesses, you can find their contact information here. If you want to reach out directly to Councilman James, you can contact his office, find him on Facebook, or tweet him on Twitter.

[Editor’s Disclosure: I live and work in Councilman David James’ district.]

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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