Louisville Metro Councilman David James says he entered a gay-friendly health spa that he alleges is a "sex club" by using an ID he found on the sidewalk.
"I didn't want to use my name because I thought somebody might recognize my name and wouldn't let me in to see what was going on," said James, D-6th District, who is opposing expansion plans by the owners of Vapor Spa in Smoketown.
To enter the spa, which promotes itself as a health and fitness center for gay men, a person must be at least 18 years old and present legal identification. Pressed on the name on the identification card, James said he couldn't remember. "I don't even have the ID anymore," he said.
Developer George Stinson, a part owner of Vapor Spa, 227 E. Breckinridge St., said a sitting council member sneaking into his business shows James cannot be trusted. Stinson and business partner Ed Lewis have ripped James, saying that the spa is being targeted because it serves gay men.
"If you're falsifying who you are, you have something to hide," Stinson said. "That violates what we have put our mission to be, a private male club." In an email to the Courier-Journal, Lewis said that if James used a fake ID to gain access to the spa that means he lied. "Liars cannot be trusted," Lewis said.
James, a former Louisville police officer, said how he entered the spa is not relevant and that the question is, "whether or not we have a sex club in a neighborhood." And he dismissed Stinson and Lewis' claims that he is anti-gay.
Richard Beliles, the executive director of ethics watchdog group Common Cause, said he had mixed feelings about James misrepresenting himself to gain entry into the spa. He said he doesn't think it violates any provision of the city's code of ethics but that the councilman shouldn't have done it that way.
"I think his motivation was probably good and his intentions were good but it is a little bit unusual to use false identification," Beliles said. "... I'd rather him go in under his own name."
James said he was "serving the public good."
Council President David Yates did not return a request for comment left with a spokesman, and Mayor Greg Fischer's office declined to comment.
The furor between James and Vapor Spa's owners erupted after James raised issues about a measure before the zoning committee to close three alleyways to help a $20 million project called The Village at the spa. During the hearing, James, who isn't on the committee, asked that the proposal be tabled because he said the spa is a "sex club."
The measure advanced, and the Metro Council is to consider it at Thursday evening's meeting.
James said that since he joined the council, he has spoken against adult-entertainment venues operating in residential areas, whether their customers are gay or straight. He also pointed to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show 20 percent of the city health department's gay clients with a sexually transmitted disease said they had visited the Vapor Spa.
Louisville health officials emphasized that those CDC statistics do not reveal when or where a person contracted an STD.
"I think (James's) motivation was probably good and his intentions were good but it is a little bit unusual to use false identification."
"If there are folks in Louisville who want to have sex clubs, that may or may not be OK," James said. "But what if you're not the person that wants to have one across the street or next door?"
On James' Facebook page, some residents praised him for bringing the spa's business practices to the forefront.
Douglas Scyphers, a former employee at the Connection, a former gay nightclub that Stinson once owned, said on Facebook that the spa is a sex club "that demeans our (LGBT) community as a whole."
Travis Phelps, who works as a bartender at a gay nightclub, said James is an ally to the gay community. He said James joined a fundraiser at Play Louisville, where Phelps works, that raised $50,000 for the victims of a mass shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando where a gunman killed 49 people.
Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, declined to comment for this story. He said the organization, which has endorsed James in past elections, is looking into the matter.