Tranny space 

Officially, the issue is about parking.    The owner of a building in Wyandotte has 26 parking spaces. The city says 119 spaces are required for a private club to open on the site. The building owner is scheduled to go before the city's Zoning Board of Appeals tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 16) seeking a waiver that will allow her to open for business.

Pretty simple stuff, the way board chair Barb Duran tells it.

"It's up to us to listen to both sides and make a determination based on what's best for the neighborhood, what's best for the owner of the building and what's best for the city in general," she says.

But it's not exactly business as usual, because the proposed club will be for cross-dressing men and transgender people. Club owner Janet Law (a self-described tranny who legally changed her name from Tom to Janet) and her lawyer say the case is more about dirty politics, the First Amendment right to assemble and discrimination against transgendered people.

Law owns a 15,000-square-foot building on Fort Street in the downriver community. National Engines, a garage and parts store for race cars, occupies about 12,000 square feet. Another part of the building is Janet's Closet, a store selling wigs, makeup, clothing and accessories for cross-dressing men.

"We're not an adult store. There's no porn. There are no dildos. There's no ass lube. There's no butt plugs," Law says. "This is an upscale store. It's not a black room with one light bulb. This is a serious store for a cross-dresser or transgendered person."

As her business grew, Law renovated the last 1,200 square feet of the building into the club. Men would be able to arrive in their "regular" clothes and use on-site locker rooms to apply makeup, do their hair and change into women's apparel.

"There's no sex here. There's nothing like that," Law says. "It's a clean, discreet place for transgenders."

With its purple walls, white tables, extensive sound system and small stage, the space is ready for business, pending the waiver on the parking regulations.

However, the rules have changed since Law first approached city officials about the club in October 2006. Then the city code called for one parking space for every three members. Law's club would have up to 78 members, according to her bylaws, so the 26 spots in her lot would have been adequate.

But last year — after Law had first approached the city to get proper permission to have the club open — the city changed the parking rules. City officials now want Law to provide 119 spaces. That's based on the size of the entire building — even though the other portions wouldn't be open when the club is. Law doesn't have that kind of space for parking.

"It looks mighty suspicious," says attorney Guy Conti, who's representing Law.

Conti maintains the city code effectively prohibits any clubs from being able to operate — a blatant First Amendment violation, he says.

"You've chilled the right of people to peaceably assemble," he says. "If you're automatically keeping groups to a small size, what you're doing is superseding the right of the people to come together."

Law has faced opposition from area residents.

Carol Thomas, who lives near Law's building, spoke against the club at a Wyandotte Planning and Rehabilitation Commission meeting last year when Law sought a zoning change. Thomas tells News Hits she's still opposed to the plan. "It will take our parking. This is a residential neighborhood and that's a commercial thing. Parking is at a premium here. Some people don't have driveways," Thomas says.

She doesn't believe Law's assertion that the number of people in the club would be limited. "I have a friend who is oriented differently and he said this sort of thing, well, probably there will be a lot of people coming in, not just a few."

Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation, says the proposed club would be a much-needed haven.

"It's very dangerous in our society to be transgendered. It's just about one of the most difficult experiences. There are very high rates of discrimination and violence. It's not a safe world for transgenders," he says. "If there's anything our cities and communities can do to nurture safe space, they should be welcomed."

The Wyandotte Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. News Hits will update online if action is taken on Law's request.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com

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