Erin Lions Club says nothing wrong with party featuring exotic dancers

Despite reports to the contrary in other Newspapers, Erin Lions Club spokesperson Dick Dow says the club has not made a decision to exclude exotic dancers from future  fundraisers.

Dow said on Wednesday morning the board of directors voted on Monday night to reconsider the inclusion of strippers, but not to ban them outright.

“It has to go before the club,” he said, noting the matter will be discussed at the May 7 meeting. “It’s the membership at large that will make the decision. That’s how it works.”

A majority of the club’s 25 members must vote against the inclusion of  exotic dancers for any decision to be final, he said.

Dow also scoffed at a Guelph Mercury report that quoted Lions Clubs International director Patricia Hill as saying the club “will no longer be doing the show.”

Dow said, “It’s up to each individual club, as long as the event doesn’t break the rules of Lions Clubs International.” He explained clubs are not allowed to use the Lions Club logo to promote nudity, and the Erin chapter never does that.

Dow also noted Lions Clubs International tried several years ago to stop a club in Port Dover from holding a similar event, but was unsuccessful.

“Our club feels we’ve done nothing wrong. We didn’t do anything out of line and we didn’t break any laws,” Dow said of the party two weeks ago that has created a controversy.

“This has gotten blown way out of proportion … it’s just ridiculous.”

On April 17, the Erin Lions Club held its annual spring fundraiser elimination draw at the Centre 2000 community centre. The club sold 300 tickets at a price of $50 each, and was not charged rent by the town.

Two local women, Mary Trav­ersy, 20, and her sister, Sarah, 22, were denied access to the event, which, as it has for the past 40 years or so, included exotic dancers as part of the evening’s entertainment.

The Traversy family said the event should not be held in a town-owned building that also houses a high school, day care, arena, theatre and library. The family also objects to the club’s refusal to allow women at the event.

Dow said the club does not have any female members and has always had a “men-only” policy at the annual party be­cause it does not want to offend women.

But Norm and Sandra Trav­ersy said that is a judgment their daughters can make for themselves.

“It’s not up to the club to decide what will embarrass or offend someone,” Sandra said, likening that explanation to 1880s misogyny.

“They’re sort of trying to be the gatekeepers of our morality, and I think it’s pretty paternalistic, to be honest.”

Norm Traversy said his family has received anonymous hate mail since the incident, and some locals the family has known for years now treat them differently or ignore them altogether.

“It’s really been awful for my daughters and wife,” Norm said. “Why should they have to deal with that?”

Dow said the entire ordeal started when the Traversy sisters “decided to cause trouble.” He noted the pair was likely more interested in “making a point” than actually attending the party.

Norm Traversy admitted his daughters attended the party to confirm a rumour they heard the previous year that the annual fundraiser was closed to women – but that should not matter.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “My daughters have not been soliciting [the attention].”

Dow said the Lions Club held a meeting a week after the event, and the majority of members reaffirmed their belief that they did nothing wrong. He noted the event was over by 11pm and held in an area of the community centre that the club helped build.

“We’ve tried to be safe and courteous over the years. We treat everyone with respect,” Dow said, though he hinted changes to the annual event are not out of the question.

“If we need a change, we’ll change – but it will still be a men’s night,” he said.

 A Lions Clubs International official said local Lions Clubs have the autonomy to organize local events and fundraisers within their jurisdictions, but hinted a party with exotic dancers may have gone too far.

“Lions Clubs International strongly discourages clubs from participating in any activities that may be offensive to their local community,” public relations manager Melitta  Cut­right said in an email.

“Lions Clubs International has contacted Lions leaders in the region to learn more about this event and to express our concern.”

Erin Mayor Rod Finnie, who said he knew about the annual Lions Club party but has never attended,  confirmed the club did not break any town bylaws. He added the town does not have any existing regulations on where strippers can perform.

Finnie seemed to agree the matter has been blown out of proportion – especially by the media.

“I think it’s more critical to the Guelph Mercury than it is to most people in town,” Finnie said.

It’s not up to the mayor alone to make a decision on what type of events should be held at Centre 2000, he added.

“It will be a decision of council,” he said, noting the issue may be included on the agenda for council’s May 5 meeting.

Interestingly, when he was asked to comment on Monday, councillor John Brennan was unaware of the entire controversy.

He was out of town for a week or so, and when informed of the party with strippers, he said, “I find that hard to believe.”