August 4, 1996 in Nation/World

Shining A Light On Porn Arcades Spokane Woman Gaining Ground In Her Crusade Against Adult Entertainment

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:profile

She’s got a prim, polished look - a ‘90s June Cleaver.

She’s sitting in a Spokane Valley burger joint, sipping iced tea. Her hands move but her eyes don’t as she talks in a sweet-but-serious voice.

Picture her with milk and cookies.

Picture her as wife, mother and second-grade teacher.

Now, picture her in an adult arcade on East Sprague - because that’s where Penny Lancaster is minutes after finishing her tea.

She giggles nervously in Paradise Adult Books as she peers down a dark corridor lined with tiny booths. Inside, customers drop quarters into videotape machines. Fifty cents buys three minutes of naked bodies, writhing and moaning in scripted passion.

Several booths have machine-cut “glory” holes in the walls, Lancaster says, allowing anonymous sex between strangers.

A Paradise manager claims he didn’t know what purpose the holes served.

“It’s just shocking,” Lancaster says. “And so sad.”

Penny Lancaster is on a mission.

The devout Christian and tireless anti-pornography activist devotes hours each day to her fight to tighten restrictions on Spokane’s adult entertainment businesses.

She’s troubled by what she considers a breakdown in family values, the startling statistics she reads dealing with divorce, unwed motherhood, child and spousal abuse. She’s convinced these problems can be traced, in part, to what’s peddled in adult bookstores, arcades and strip joints.

“I’m concerned for the wives and daughters of men who regularly use these kinds of materials,” Lancaster says. “It destroys men’s attitudes toward women. … It hurts a marriage relationship.

“My whole purpose is to make Spokane a decent place for families and businesses.”

Lancaster’s crusade recently won the support of county commissioners. She helped convince the trio to spend $20,000 to develop tougher ordinances for sexually oriented businesses, and to prosecute the laws’ violators.

The money would move Patti Connolly Walker, a city prosecutor who defends Spokane’s adult entertainment ordinances in court, from part time to full time.

The plan to consolidate city and county taxpayer dollars is slated to come before the City Council this month. If approved, Walker would draft and enforce ordinances throughout the county.

Successfully lobbying for county money is just one of Lancaster’s accomplishment. She helped write the city’s adult arcade law in 1992 and now she’s doing the same for the county.

Modeled after the city ordinance, the proposed county law would take the doors off the booths, turn up the lights, fill in the glory holes, and license owners and employees.

Some people say the crackdown on sex shops couldn’t happen - especially not this quickly - without Lancaster.

“We talked one day about the necessity for this,” says Commissioner Steve Hasson. “She impressed upon me that I needed to wake up and smell the roses …

“It’s real easy to be complacent and not move forward. She’s just a one-person marching band.”

“This whole project happened faster than I thought it would because Penny was instrumental in doing that,” Walker says.

“She’s a sparkplug,” says Paul Unger, a fellow anti-porn crusader.

Calm, not rabble-rousing

Fans and foes alike say much of Lancaster’s success is due to her calm, reasoned approach. She backs up speeches with statistics gleaned from conservative publications. She doesn’t shout or get hysterical.

Assistant City Attorney Walker describes herself as “quite liberal” and Lancaster as “quite conservative,” but says the two often debate issues in a cordial-but-spirited fashion.

“She never preaches,” Walker says. “She’s not political in that she doesn’t change her opinions or tailor them to get what she wants, but she’s politically savvy. I may not agree with her viewpoint, but she presents it in a very palatable way.”

“She’s not a table-pounder,” says Greg Casey, an attorney who specializes in religious issues. “She’s able to present something articulately without coming across defensively.”

Even Gil Levy, whose Seattle law practice defends the adult entertainment industry, including Spokane’s, praises Lancaster’s style.

He brands Lancaster’s views “extreme, very, very, extreme,” but credits her with having a pleasant, friendly approach.

“Usually, when we have people doing the same sort of work over here on the West Side, those people are barely civil,” Levy says. “I’ve enjoyed the brief conversations I’ve had with Miss Lancaster.”

Lancaster says she tries to treat people the way she wants to be treated. “I like to discuss my views respectfully.”

She’d love to see all sexually oriented businesses pack up and leave town, but she knows the shops’ materials are protected by the First Amendment. She focuses instead on getting the sexual activity stopped.

“I want to work within constitutional boundaries. Everyone is helped that way,” she says.

Returned to God after divorce

Lancaster says she learned early to be dogged. Her parents owned a Spokane collection agency, and she managed several accounts while a student at Lewis and Clark High School. “I don’t see myself as a fanatic, but I don’t give up,” she says.

Lancaster studied education in college, marrying her first husband while a student at Idaho State University. They had a son and a daughter before divorcing in 1977.

She says she was a lapsed Catholic before the divorce plunged her into despair. She searched for answers, finding them in a book called “Beyond Ourselves,” by Katherine Marshall.

“It talked about what a difference Jesus Christ can give to life,” Lancaster says. “By the time I got to Chapter 10, I said I had everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

She later remarried and had another son.

Her family and teaching consumed the years leading up to her plunge into activism. Eventually, she found her faith required her to get involved.

“Whatever breaks God’s heart breaks my heart,” she says.

Five years ago, she joined the fight to keep the Erotique Boutique from opening a North Side store. The shop filled with sexually provocative clothing and sex toys opened despite the outcry.

She joined a city-sponsored citizen task force to help Walker develop new adult entertainment restrictions.

Group members toured shops. Lancaster says they found “lots of crimes,” including drugs and prostitution.

Walker backs Lancaster’s claim. “It’s not murders or rapes, but in the whole scheme of things it does affect the community,” she says.

Lancaster continues to help Walker during repeated legal challenges to the city law. She keeps tabs on what other communities are doing, and occasionally returns to the sex shops to see if the places follow city laws.

One room of Lancaster’s Valley home is devoted to her fight. She has a fax machine, a computer and stacks of files filled with laws and court cases.

Campaigns promote many causes

Lancaster turns her eye to more than adult book stores.

The Coalition for Better Community Standards, which she helped form in 1991, unsuccessfully lobbied city libraries to restrict children’s access to books the group considers pornographic or obscene.

She pickets convenience and video stores that deal in pornographic magazines and movies. She writes protest letters to theaters that show sexually explicit films.

She’s sent numerous letters to the editor, speaking out against everything from laws that protect homosexuals against discrimination to plans to put a gambling casino in Airway Heights.

She’s trying to convince cable TV companies to further restrict access to their adult-oriented channels. Right now, she says, some programs can be seen and heard despite scrambling.

Some people think Lancaster should mind her own business.

“There are just a handful of people out there trying to control everyone else’s right to choose,” said a manager at Pretty Girls Exotic Dancers on East Sprague. The man asked that his name not be used.

Calls to the owners of several adult bookstores weren’t returned.

Lancaster knows some people consider her a busybody. She doesn’t care.

She says she’s sometimes asked what qualifies her to set community standards.

“I think, in most people’s heart of hearts … they know this type of merchandise is not healthy,” she says. “I’m sure that’s true whenever we ask people to be better, to be all they can be for the good of others.

“They’re going to object. That’s not going to stop me.”

She knows her family misses the time she devotes to her causes. With a full-time job teaching second grade at Opportunity Elementary School plus her lobbying efforts, she’s away a lot.

Her husband wanted to go get coffee on the night she decided instead to take a reporter on a tour of two sexually oriented business.

“It’s a sacrifice, for the goal, for the cause,” she says. “I’m OK with that.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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