Get our free newsletter
The District was one of the last jurisdictions to legalize gay sex—it abolished its anti-sodomy statute in 1993, two years after Kentucky—but even that didn’t mark the end of efforts by the city’s politicians to restrict consensual sex between adults.
As temperatures warmed in late spring 1995, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans decided that downtown faced a new crisis. Vans were pulling up around Logan Circle and Blagden Alley, each depositing as many as 20 sex workers to work the streets. It amounted to a “sophisticated business enterprise,” Evans told colleagues, with many of the prostitutes bused in from out of state and given maps to identify their turf. As summer arrived, Evans convened an Anti-Prostitution Task Force to confront the problem. Members, including community groups and law-enforcement officials, concluded that the District’s existing anti-prostitution laws, dating to 1935 and 1981, didn’t give police enough tools to crack down.
Evans’ staff set to work on legislation to strengthen those laws. The “Safe Streets Anti-Prostitution Emergency Act of 1995” aimed to broaden the definition of illegal acts, including “the person inquires about an act that would constitute sexual activity,” according to a draft. “It shall not be lawful for any person to invite solicit, entice, persuade or address for the purpose of inviting, soliciting enticing, or persuading any person or persons for the purpose of prostitution or for any other lewd or immoral purposes,” it went on. The draft also included this definition: “‘Solicitation for sexual activity’ means the engaging, agreeing to engage, or offering to engage in sexual acts or contacts with another person, whether or not in return for a fee.”
A lawyer from the local ACLU was shocked when she read Evans’s proposed language. “It would criminalize conduct that goes on in every bar in America,” Mary Jane De Frank explained to Washington Blade reporter Lou Chibarro, Jr., according to notes included among Chibarro’s papers archived at George Washington University. De Frank had a number of civil-libertarian concerns that would probably lead the ACLU to oppose Evans’s bill, but at its heart it was “extremely poorly drafted,” she told Chibarro. By removing a clause in existing laws that exempted “non-commercial” sex from regulation, Evans’s bill would ban more or less any effort to get laid in the District.
Evans said the circulating bill had been merely a draft, its errors belonging to the staffer who had prepared the legislation. A rewritten bill kept its focus on tougher penalties—a minimum of a night in jail and $500 fine for convicted prostitutes—and it passed in late July. Washingtonians were free, once again, to cruise with impunity.