All-male Elks Lodge To Challenge Anti-discrimination Law

Annapolis Chapter Failed To Persuade National Leaders To Allow Women

August 09, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

An all-male Annapolis Elks lodge has voted to challenge a city law denying liquor licenses to clubs that bar women as members.

Some 350 members of Elks Lodge 622 voted unanimously late Wednesday night tosue in county Circuit Court, Robert A. Dietz, spokesman for the lodge, said yesterday.

Under the city anti-discrimination law, which took effect Jan. 1,the 1,500-member lodge would automatically lose its liquor license in April when it seeks renewal. Without revenue from liquor sales, thelodge could not survive, Dietz said.

The lodge's leaders failed last month to convince the Elks' national leadership to allow a bylaw change to admit women.

The Annapolis lodge had sought the change to comply with the city law, which denies liquor licenses to private clubs whose bylaws discriminate based on race, gender or ethnic background.

Dietz said the local lodge had done everything possible to comply with the anti-discrimination law but added that bylaw changes must win the approval of the Elks national leadership.

"We're backed into a corner, and our survival depends on this, so we have no other alternative but to sue," Dietz said. "We are in a position we can'tdo anything about. If we could do something about it, it would be different.

"I have no idea what motivated our city fathers to pass this law," he added, "because there is so much else they could devote their attention to rather than uprooting probably the largest charitable organization in the city."

Dietz said the lodge planned to file the lawsuit within a month. He said the club's leaders believe the law is more restrictive than the state code allows but had yet to settle on a specific legal strategy.

The lodge had considered leavingtown because of the law. But Dietz said a soft economy would make ittough to sell the Rowe Boulevard club for enough money to afford a comparable building outside the city limits.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, who sponsored the anti-discrimination bill adopted lastyear, predicted it would withstand a legal challenge and welcomed news of the lawsuit.

"(The case) will underscore what lengths some organizations will go to to maintain an antiquated, outdated, good-ol'-boy system," Snowden said.

Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist and one of the City Council's two black aldermen, noted that the club has never had a black member during its more than 70 years in Annapolis.

"I look forward to hearing the Elks argue in 1991 that it's in the interests of the Elks club to be all-white and all-male," he said.

But Alderman Wayne C. Turner, who sponsored a January measure approved by the council that extended the Elks deadline until Sept. 1, said he hoped the lodge would remain in Annapolis.

Turner said he proposed the extension to give the Elks time to seek the bylaw change at the organization's national convention last month. But delegates at the convention overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to let women join.

The Ward 6 Republican said yesterday that it's unfair to blame the local lodge for a decision it could not control.

"I don't want to legislate the Elks out of the city," Turner said. "You'retalking about 1,500 members of an Elks lodge that has been in this city more than 60 years. To force them out because the national group won't change bylaws baffles me."

Turner also said the compromise anti-discrimination law that passed the council after more than two years of debate unfairly targets the Elks while other private clubs discriminate with impunity.

The law denies liquor licenses to clubs with discriminatory bylaws. Clubs that deny blacks and women entry in practice but whose bylaws allow them face no sanctions.

"This law should apply to the actual practice of discrimination, not only bylaws," Turner said.

Both the Eastport Democratic Club and the Annapolitan Club allow blacks and women, according to their bylaws. But neither has any female or black members, and the Eastport club denied three women entry earlier this year.

Snowden said compromises watereddown his original bill, which made no reference to bylaws.

Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, the City Council's other black member, joined Snowden in fighting efforts to weaken the bill and the extensiongiving the Elks.

"This lawsuit only proves that segregation stilllives and that the white male believes in it and will do everything possible to keep the status quo," Gilmer said.

In passing the bill, Annapolis became the first municipality in Maryland to deny liquor licenses based on discrimination.

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