Dallas City Council Bans Exxxotica From Using Convention Center

Get ready for a legal fight.

Jennifer Staubach Gates said she doesn't want anything happening behind closed doors in Dallas that she doesn't approve of.
Jennifer Staubach Gates said she doesn’t want anything happening behind closed doors in Dallas that she doesn’t approve of.

Today’s title fight at the horseshoe — over the mayor’s proposal to ban the Exxxotica sex show from returning to the city-owned Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center — unsurprisingly centered on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment vs. the desire not to contribute to the exploitation of women and girls.

The measure was approved, by a vote of 8-7. Those in favor were Adam McGough, Carolyn Arnold, Casey Thomas, Erik Wilson, Jennifer Staubach Gates, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Rickey Callahan, and Tiffinni Young. Against it were Adam Medrano, Lee Kleinman, Mark Clayton, Monica Alonzo, Philip Kingston, Sandy Greyson, and Scott Griggs.

Rawlings began the council’s debate by explaining that he proposed the resolution as part of his (self-described) duties as “chief brand officer” and said that he doesn’t believe the event is good for Dallas’ reputation.

He drew parallels between this potential legal fight and past fights the city has accepted even when it knew it was likely to be sued, as with denying gas drilling in a park or the (short-lived) plastic-bag ban. (Though, it should be noted, neither of those disputes centered on constitutional matters.)

Rawlings’ case was essentially that denying Exxxotica the use of the convention center is no different than restrictions the city is allowed to put on such things as the size and placement of billboards. There are many such decisions where the city has a right to determine to what length the freedom of speech extends.

“I read online that there’s a place [in the Exxxotica event] called the Dungeon, where women are tied up and whipped,” Rawlings said, his voice breaking with emotion. “There’s where it crossed the line for me.”

City Councilman Mark Clayton said it makes no sense to move forward with a measure that will not ultimately not prevent the Exxxotica show from taking place in Dallas and will (according to city attorneys) lead to the city being sued. He’d rather take money that would have to go to a legal fight and donate it to nonprofits that assist victims of domestic violence.

Clayton reasoned that if the council is going to begin making decisions about what events the convention center can or can’t accommodate based purely on each event’s content, then perhaps all events should have to come before the council for a vote. He drew a comparison to hosting gun shows that sell assault rifles, a practice he’d rather not have the city support.

Philip Kingston then asked city attorney Warren Ernst to clarify whether Section 41A of the city code would apply as a defense of the resolution — as some supporters of the mayor’s resolution had asserted. Ernst said that’s a land-use ordinance, which means it applies to the official occupant of the facility (the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau) and that it does not apply to temporary events, like Exxxotica, that are hosted there.

With that established, Kingston said that the larger issue is why the city owns a convention center at all. “If you have one, you will have an event like this, and you may have one that’s far, far worse,” he said. “We don’t have to be in this business.”

He further argued that the city’s financial support for the convention center would be better spent in fighting the persistent poverty rate — citing poverty as having far strong connections to sexual crimes than do events like Exxxotica.

Scott Griggs called even the consideration of the resolution a mistake, as it has provided a PR boost to Exxxotica, raising awareness of the event that will likely aid its attendance.

Carolyn Arnold, in favor of the resolution, argued the city shouldn’t be “bullied” into not taking a stand just because of the threat of a lawsuit. “Our city attorneys will have to bite the bullet,” she said.

Jennifer Staubach Gates, despite having proposed her own resolution that would have condemned but not disallowed the Exxxotica event, spoke in support of the mayor’s proposal. She said she’s convinced that it’s not incompatible with the First Amendment. “I’m not going to stay silent and let things happen behind closed doors in the city of Dallas that I don’t approve of,” she said.

Rickey Callahan invoked the words of famed 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke in explaining why he’s not going to let “activist judges” tell him what should or shouldn’t be allowed in Dallas: “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”

A parade of speakers — former U.S. Senator (and convention center namesake) Kay Bailey Hutchison among the crowd — who appeared before the council vote were unanimously in favor of the resolution. Most of them drew connections between a sexually-oriented exposition like Exxxotica and violence against women, including sex trafficking.

There was a faith-based bent to a number of their arguments, as when Stephen Mansfield, CEO of Methodist Hospital System of North Texas, said “Pornography, at its root, defies the basic tenets of the world’s major religions.”

Others made the case that Exxxotica should qualify as a sexually-oriented business, which might have established grounds to deny it a permit under Section 41A of the city code. “How do you explain the harm you’re about to profit from?” said Katie Pedigo, CEO of the nonprofit New Friends New Life, which assists sexually exploited women and their children.

Alice Murray, president of the Dallas Citizens Council, got emotional during her time before the council, choking back tears as she revealed that she has herself been a victim of domestic violence. “If you can spare just one young woman that experience, you’ve done your job today,” she said.

Only a representative of the company that runs Exxxotica spoke at the podium against the resolution, highlighting how safely the event went off last year, saying that the show’s purpose is “to celebrate sex in a positive and educational way.”

It looks like the thousands of people who attended Exxxotica last year and would like to have returned will have to seek other means of furthering their sexual educations — at least until a lawsuit results in an injunction that requires the city to allow the event.

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