It’s been three years since Janet Law opened a boutique for cross-dressers, Janet’s Closet, in back of her successful speed shop on Fort Street. Since that time, the store has attracted a small but loyal number of customers, and little interest from its neighbors. But now Law’s plans to open a private social club for cross-dressers in the same building have created an uproar in this quiet downriver community.
Though she only went before the city’s planning and rehabilitation committee Feb. 15 asking for what she thought would be a routine parking exemption, she was met by dozens of angry residents opposed, instead, to her planned business in general. Now, she claims it was anti-trans bias – not the parking issue – that caused the commission to unanimously deny her a certificate of occupancy.
Even before the meeting, the accusations started flying. A Wyandotte resident who lives a few blocks away from Law’s business, Pauline Averbach, received what was made to look like a city-issued notice regarding the commission meeting. It urged residents to take action against Law’s private club proposal, saying, “If you can’t attend, please send a letter expressing your concern,” and it was signed, simply, “your concerned neighbor.”
Averbach told the downriver community newspaper The News Herald that the unsigned notice was “pretty darn cowardly … If you take a stand, put your name to it or shut up.” One local resident had no problem putting her name to a plea for action against the club. Libbie Hall, a choir director with Wyandotte’s Southpoint Community Christian Church, sent out a mass email. The hateful letter, which offended at least one family that received it, who in turn handed it over to Law, falsely claimed that Law “eventually wants to buy the whole block and turn it into an entire transgendered community.” Law is adamant she has no such plans, which, in fact, would require her to close her lucrative speed shop, which she has operated for 30 years.
Further, the email erroneously maintained that Law “is planning to buy the entire store and turn it into a gay bar.” In truth, Law already owns the entire building and has not applied for a liquor license – nor does she plan to. Nor, for that matter, would Janet’s Club be a gay club. Membership would be limited to cross-dressers only, and not even their admirers would be welcome.
A simple matter of math
For Law, the only issue that should have been on the table is a simple one of math. She has 26 available parking spaces. The city zoning laws stipulate that for the type of business she is applying to open – a private club – she must have one space for every 100 square feet or one for every three members, whichever is greater. Therefore, Law structured the bylaws for the club, which will be housed in a 1,400 square foot section of her building, to allow for a maximum of 78 members.
The commission argued that there weren’t enough spaces available because of those allotted for the use of the speed shop. But, according to Law, they disregarded the fact that the speed shop’s hours of operations and the proposed hours for the club do not overlap.
“It works this way,” Law explained. “In the city of Wyandotte’s bylaws, their charter, under the planning commission rules, section 1801.I, it states that businesses with non-overlapping hours of operation, that the parking can be approved. So if you have two businesses in the same building and one operates at day and one operates at night, it’s not an issue … that’s what it means. It should have been a rubber stamp deal, but that’s not how it went. The commission did everything it could to sidestep the overlapping issue.”
Law believes the commission’s 9-0 decision against granting her a certificate of occupancy was based solely on homophobia and anti-trans bias, a fact that Wyandotte Mayor James R. DeSana denied.
“Parking is the issue,” he told The Detroit News. “He didn’t have adequate parking.”
Still, Law is incredulous, and she’s instructed her attorney, Eric Ladasz, to proceed with filing suit against the city.
“They claimed that it would create a traffic burden to the residents behind me, which is just bullshit,” she said. “I’m not right on the corner. I’m on the middle of the block. You’d have to go a quarter of a mile past me and you’d have to overflow our parking lot and all of Fort Street to get into the residential area.”