Low turnout at protest of alleged visit of swingers club to Shawano

Shawano Leader, Wisconsin/March 9, 2008

The alleged gathering of a swingers club at a Shawano motel this weekend drew a small protest Saturday afternoon.

A Shawano couple picketed with signs while a group of church members conducted a prayer walk, in an effort to bring attention to an activity they say tarnishes – and is potentially harmful to – the community.

"It's just not right," said Steve Carey of Shawano, who coordinated the protest. "They shouldn't bring that stuff around. We want to run a clean town, the more you allow in your town, the worse it's going to get."

"The more they can keep it a secret, the more they can have success," said Pastor Mark Harris of First Apostolic Church in Shawano. "We want to make sure the community is aware this is happening."

The club's gathering was apparently the second in Shawano. City officials began receiving complaints about the presence of the group last month. After a meeting and discussions with legal counsel, the city decided there was no action to be taken, said police chief Ed Whealon.

"As long as (they're) over 21 years of age, and it's not open to the public, there's nothing illegal about it," Whealon said. "Whether you agree with it, that's one thing, but there's nothing illegal going on."

A man who answered a call Saturday morning to a phone number listed on the club's website, seeking comment and more information, declined to talk after learning the caller was a reporter. He asked the reporter not to call again and hung up.

From the street, there were no clear indications of what was happening at the motel, though couples periodically walked in with luggage.

A sign at the Best Western said "Private Party; Welcome Wisconsin Wood Crafters."

Carey and his wife Rebecca held up a variety of signs with Bible verses for more than an hour outside the hotel, after Carey carefully measured the right-of-way along Airport Road so they knew where they could walk without trespassing. Several passing motorists either honked or gave the thumbs up sign in an apparent show of support.

The pickets also drew the attention of an apparent motel employee who was asking Carey and Harris to identify themselves. When asked if he could speak to a reporter, the man said no and any questions would have to be directed to the person in charge of the event inside. He then returned to the parking lot.

Carey, who on Friday expected many more people to join him, was undaunted Saturday that just he and his wife were picketing. He said the protest was planned on short notice, and many people already had plans.

"We have a lot of churches standing behind us in prayer," Carey said.

He added he'll continue to protest if necessary.

"If they're gullible enough to come back, we'll be back every month," Carey said.

Harris and six church members held a separate "prayer walk" in response to the gathering. They circled the property several times, and sometimes could be heard singing hymns.

"We're just asking that God intervene in thisw e would call it perversionand that it be taken out of our city," Harris said. He said the prayers would be for protection of the community and its residents.

Harris said the silent prayer walk was appropriate for his church. They did not want to be confrontational, he said, because the members of the club are people too.

"We don't want this to take root in our community. We're defending our rights as Christians," Harris said.

Whealon said he talked with city attorneys all over the state, who are aware of similar gatherings in their communities.

"They're all pretty much aware they're having these parties in their towns," he said. "They've never had a problem with them."

A website for swingers clubs across the country shows several operating in all parts of Wisconsin.

Whealon said the department received a complaint last month that a man lost his room reservation because the hotel was closed because of a private party. The man also alleged drugs were being used.

Whealon said the first issue is a civil matter between him and the hotel, and not a police matter. He said officers did a walk-through of the Best Western, and found no evidence of drugs or drug use.

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