BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — A recently filed memo from Bristol town solicitors reveals they’re advising the town council against amending the definition of “adult entertainment.”

Last month, resident Robert Botelho filed a petition requesting the council to broaden the language of the definition to include, “the act of entertaining with or without music by dancing, or behaving in a manner consistent with mimicking sexual action or seduction with or without the 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 Bristol brewery that had recently hosted a drag show and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU) fought the petition once they got word it would appear in a town council meeting earlier this month.

In a letter addressed to the Bristol Town Council, the ACLU said the petition is “inappropriately aimed at LGBTQ+ individuals.”

ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown also wrote that the proposed language “is broad enough to have the Footloose-ian effect” and would in turn bring strict regulations to any kind of entertainment in Bristol.

At the March 1 meeting, Botelho argued he filed the petition long before the drag show took place, and his request did not specifically mention drag shows.

“The notion that this is barring any [transgender] sex show, this is not that,” he told councilors on March 1. “If you wanted such activity to take place, you could work with the town solicitor to define and permit that.”

Last week, Assistant Town Solicitor Amy Goins sent a memorandum to town councilors, saying that the current definition of adult entertainment is “narrowly tailored and leaves very little room
for guessing what activity falls within this definition.”

“By contrast, Mr. Botelho’s proposed language contains the ambiguous phrase ‘consistent with mimicking sexual action or seduction,'” Goins added.

Goins noted how in a March 1 town council meeting, Vice Chairwoman Mary Parella stated the definition “could conceivably extend to performances of cheerleading squads,” and how Brown said, “a vast array of classical and contemporaneous arts performances would suddenly be deemed adult entertainment’ on par with nude dancing in a bar.”

“We agree with this assertion and interpretation,” Goins wrote.

While the decision is ultimately left up to the council to amend the definition or not, Goins said solicitors advised against changing the definition as proposed.

“It is our opinion that Mr. Botelho’s proposed definition of adult entertainment would likely be invalidated by a reviewing court in the event of a lawsuit,” Goins wrote. “In that event, the town would also be liable for attorney fees.”

“Further, it is our opinion that the current definition of adult entertainment in the zoning ordinance is sufficient to cover the traditional establishments that municipalities seek to
strictly limit,” she added.

The town council meets at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

While the meeting will be available to watch over zoom, the agenda states there will be in-person participation only.

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