Tuesday, May 6, 1997
Honk if you're a bigot, sexist

The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's hard to decide which side to take in the latest swipe at private clubs.

On the one hand, most of us deplore race and gender discrimination. At least publicly. On the other hand, why not allow bigots and sexists to clump together if it makes them happy? It will be easier to identify them. And avoid them. And refuse to help them prosper.

This week, Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, is introducing a bill in the Ohio House to ban race and gender discrimination at most private clubs. It is his fourth try.

Lobbyist John Meeks, who led the fight against Mr. Sykes' last attempt, thinks government should just butt out. "The belief was that if it was a private club, it is basically their business," he says.

He could be right.

Instead of prohibiting large gatherings of the intolerant, maybe we should encourage them to step forward together. It really would be handier to know exactly who they are. Maybe we should insist that they not only hang out together, but wear identifying badges: "I refuse to golf with women, Jews or blacks."

Even if you are not a member, you could wear a badge if you visit these clubs. Or maybe a bumper sticker. Yes, that would be even better. Then after you have left the club, you can let the rest of the world know exactly where you stand on these matters.

"This is an economic issue," Mr. Sykes says, adding that private clubs often are the location for business deals. In those cases, we probably should ask them to add this information to their bumper sticker: "I prefer to do business exclusively with white men who golf."

Instead of insisting that country clubs open their Men's Grill to women, maybe men could just wear T-shirts that say, "I refuse to eat with women." Then their wives and daughters and female employees could make sure these guys never have to relax their dining standards outside the club.

Nobody has to join a country club. We were not guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of golf in the Constitution, although 25 million Americans have chosen to take up this aggravating sport. Of these, 21 percent are women.

That sounds like a healthy market share. Do you suppose Coca-Cola would decide to ignore 21 percent of cola drinkers? If women who golf would join only clubs that allow them full privileges, it seems to me that the other ones would have a lot of leftover badges and bumper stickers.

"I think there is a heightened awareness of the issues surrounding private clubs because of the Tiger Woods phenomenon," says Mr. Sykes, who is black. Delicately put.

The issues surrounding private clubs might be resolved rather quickly if Tiger Woods would refuse to play at clubs with restrictive policies. And even more quickly if he refused to play with anybody else who plays at these clubs.

Women can do the same thing.

If the government wants to get involved, it might take a closer look at business expenses that involve these clubs. Maybe there could be a special tax, like the sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. And another bumper sticker: "I am willing to pay a premium to avoid people who are not just like me."

Rep. Dale Van Vyven, R-Sharonville, who opposes the bill, says, "It seems to me that in Cincinnati, we are beginning to see a little breakthrough. I just don't know that it is our job as lawmakers to force the issue."

If you're right, Mr. Van Vyven, you should be pleased to wear a badge: "I am a lawmaker who does not believe government has a role in social change."

This could work. Some of the same people who belong to the most discriminatory clubs have complained about "political correctness." They would like to feel free to call a woman a broad and a person with a disability a cripple. This is perfect for them. They can lay it right on the line, wear their badges and install their bumper stickers with pride.

And when we all understand who they are and what they believe, maybe more people would decide not to join their club. Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU (91.7 MHz) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.


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