More than 400 men, including top Virginia legislators, lobbyists and government officials, turned out today for a controversial charity roast of Virginia House Speaker A.L. Philpott that featured nearly nude dancing girls as part of the stag event.
The luncheon, sponsored by the Richmond chapter of a charitable group called Circus Saints and Sinners of America, was criticized for excluding women and featuring a floor show with women doing bumps and grinds in a room adjacent to the luncheon at the John Marshall Hotel here.
Female state government officials and members of the legislature were not invited to the event.
"I think it is completely inappropriate that it is given the sanction of the General Assembly," said Judy Goldberg, associate director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I thought presenting women as sex objects passed 15 years ago."
Women's groups and others have complained that the event perpetuates Virginia's "good ol' boy" network that in the past has killed efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and other legislation favorable to women. Female members of the House, citing Philpott's power to appoint committee chairmen, expressed reluctance to criticize the event.
Among those attending the luncheon were State Democratic Party Chairman Alan A. Diamonstein; State Corporation Commission member Junie Bradshaw; C. Younger Coggin, a member of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission; Senate President Pro Tem Edward E. Willey of Richmond and numerous other chairmen of key house legislative committees.
"I'm just here to honor my speaker," Diamonstein said in response to questions about his attendance.
Diamonstein's remark was repeated by many others.
H. Benson Dendy, Gov. Charles S. Robb's top staff assistant for constituent affairs, also attended the event. Dendy said that he was not representing the governor, who had declined to attend.
Several women picketed the hotel, carrying handwritten signs that read "Exploitation Isn't Charitable" and "Saints and Sinners Promote Sexism." The Northern Virginia chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus sent a telegram asking that proceeds from the event be used to promote women in "leadership" and positive roles.
Richmond attorney James A. Baber III, organizer of the event, defended the group's actions and the use of dancers who appeared in pasties and G-strings.
"We did not exclude women, we didn't invite them . . . we don't try to go to the women's club," said Baber.
Asked about the portrayal of women as sex objects, Baber said women "have made great progress.. . . I'm not down on women. I think they should stay at home, raise children, clean the house and take care of their husbands."
Baber said he did not mind the protestors outside, but said, "they are an awfully ugly bunch."
Asked later to comment on Baber's remarks, Betty J. Diener, secretary of commerce and human resources and the top woman in the administration of Gov. Charles S. Robb, responded derisively.
"I don't know what to say," Diener said, "the governor won't let me stay home. I probably shouldn't have children because I'm not married, and I haven't cleaned my apartment in months."
The crowd of men, many chuckling at nearby pickets and the media coverage of the event, began streaming into the hotel just before noon. A brightly covered circus wagon was parked outside, with old-fashioned calliope tunes giving the downtown block a carnival air.
Inside, the men strolled around the hotel mezzanine, popping in to watch the dancers in one room, lining up at the bar in another and lunching on baked chicken and fruit platters in the main room.
Philpott did not enter the room with the dancers. "You think I'm some kind of nut, with all your cameras out there?" he asked a reporter.
It could not be determined how many officials actually visited the room where the dancing girls and seven-piece band were performing.
Earlier this week, when some groups complained about the "girlie show," Philpott issued a written statement saying he was unaware of the nature of the entertainment and that he hoped nothing would detract from the charitable nature of the event.
"They're trash," Willey, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said of the dancers in the adjoining room. He said he showed up to honor Philpott and did not go into the room with the floor show.
Meanwhile today, the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs, which regulates charitable organizations in the state, said that the Circus chapter, which has been in existence in Richmond for 50 years, is not registered as a legal fund-raising organization.
"We don't have any record of them," an official said. Failure to register is a misdemeanor and carries a $100 fine, officials said.
Warren Schmidt, treasurer of the 100-member chapter, said it is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization and he was not aware of any state requirements.
Schmidt said that the event should raise about $10,000, of which about $3,000 would be available for charities after expenses.