The Red Light is Just About Put Out
by, 04-05-2011 at 04:16 PM (1495 Views)
I am inspired to write about a local news item I read today.
There is a street in Montreal officially called Boulevard Saint-Laurent, but most often affectionately called the Main. It has historically been the dividing line between English and French Montreal, as a result it was a no man's land that created room for immigrants to carve out their own space in the city. As a result, the Main was also a street that was largely populated by some of the poorest members of Montreal society.
Today, the Main is at the center of Montreal's China Town, Little Italy, Little Portugal, and the artsy, oh-so-trendy, and bohemian Plateau (which used to be one of the poorest working class French neighbourhoods). However, the area I really wanted to talk about in this blog is at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Sainte-Catherine, the red-light district. Or, what's left of the red-light district. The city has stopped giving out bar and nudity licenses, has increased police presence to force out the prostitutes, and most recently a few years ago attempted to evict most of the business to build a "Quartier de spectacle."
Shutting down the district was largely successful, but one club remained and fought the initiative in court, Cafe Cleopatra. A club best known for drag and fetish shows, particularly transvestite and transsexual strippers. And this club was at the core of the fight to protect what was left of the Red-light district by preventing the building of the new theater district. CC claims to be an institution, even if it is a sleazy institution. The club also has very close historical ties to Montreal's gay community. Since the red-light district use to be the center of Montreal's gay community before being pushed to the even slummier neighbourhood East of the Main. Being pretty much the oldest place in Montreal to openly host drag shows since the 70s.
Well after 2 years of fighting, CC somehow managed to win, the investor pulled out of the project and the club seems safe for the moment. But does a handful of remaining clubs, even those as bizarre as Cleo's really make a red-light district?
Now, why do I care about whether Montreal has a red-light district anymore? Because the sex trade should be centralized and in the open to protect sex workers. Sex-worker advocacy groups have criticized the crack down on the district harshly for pushing prostitutes into more residential, less busy, dangerous, and more out of the way locals. Does shutting down a red-light district clean up the city, or is it merely white wash on a rotten fence?
For this reason, I think the city should embrace the red-light district, just as it has in recent years embraced the Gay Village. When the city puts money into these places, instead of persecuting the workers, patrons, and business owners, they can make real improvements.