Wednesday, July 9, 2008


It's not easy making money for charity. Nobody wants to fork over their cash for nothing: they want a plaque, a goody bag, an evening's entertainment in return.

So, charities have been forced to get creative. They write names on rubber ducks and release them in a river, and first across the finish line wins a prize. They have Vegas nights, with the usual gaming tables, and whoever wins the most fake money wins a genuine gift. They have bachelor/ette auctions, where attractive people strut around onstage to prompt bids from singles who wouldn't mind spending a few hours with them.

Several years ago, some gay men in Los Angeles decided to hold a leather-themed bachelor auction to benefit charity. They rented a bathhouse, lined up attractive volunteers, and publicized the event as a "slave auction." It proved a rousing success. The place was jammed wall to wall, donations piled up by the bucketful, and a great time was had by all.

Until the police arrived.

I was a volunteer on the Gay Community Services Center's suicide prevention line, and I was working that night. At around three a.m. I got a phone call. I couldn't believe the man was serious. The auction had been raided, he said. Over a hundred police officers had burst in, with Police Chief Ed Davis in the lead. They'd brought battering rams, helicopters, and dogs. Dozens of men were arrested.

And charged with slavery.

Slavery. You know. Owning somebody against their will. Forcing them to work for you. Beating them when they don't. Selling them when their work is done. Doesn't exactly match up with scantily-dressed volunteers dancing lasciviously and begging people to buy them, but maybe these cops had never seen Roots.

"Lawrence" was absolutely frantic, pleading for my help. It was a madhouse, he said, and the police were beating up the arrestees. They needed lawyers. They needed doctors. And they needed a certain priest.

Father Richard lived near the Center, Lawrence said, and he asked me to fetch him and send him to the police station. I closed up shop and went. I walked as fast as I could up Highland Avenue, went left on Hollywood Boulevard, and found his apartment building in the shadow of Mann's Chinese. He opened the door tentatively, unsure who'd want him at three-thirty in the morning. I told him what happened and he said he'd go.

I went back to the Center and sat by the phone until my shift ended, around six a.m. I had plenty of time to wonder about what had happened, since I didn't get another call. Was it really just a simple auction? Why would somebody hold a "charity" event at a bathhouse? Why were a hundred policemen needed to arrest two hundred men? Being young and reasonably sheltered, I couldn't get the pieces to fit.

A few days later, Lawrence dropped by the Center while I was there. He was a nice-looking, middle-aged man. He thanked me for my help on Raid Night, and told me again how crazy it was. He said the raid had cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, but now every charge against every man had been dropped.

Before he left, he asked me if I wanted to go out with him. Evidently he was innocent, but there was still no way that I could. I mean, imagine being in a relationship with him. Getting that phone call in the middle of the night. Hearing he's been arrested for slavery.

Heck, I've dumped old boyfriends because they bought shirts without consulting me.

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