Scottsdale club owner Tom Anderson ended 2007 with a bang. After keeping struggling nightspot Anderson’s Fifth Estate afloat for 25 years, he revamped it into Forbidden, a gay dance club that opened in late December.
Which came as a shock to most people in the gay community — including Michèle DeLaFreniere, the transgender chairwoman of Scottsdale’s Human Relations Commission, considering Anderson created headlines last year after he banned DeLaFreniere and her friends. She filed a discrimination lawsuit against him; he claimed clubgoers complained about men dressed as women using the women’s restroom.
“Usually the way it goes is that a straight woman is trying to turn a gay guy straight, but in my case I’ve turned a straight guy gay,” jokes DeLaFreniere. “I find it all kind of interesting.”
DeLaFreniere says that she and Anderson have made amends since last year; she also dropped the lawsuit.
“I think if we would have sat down and discussed this out, it never would have been blown up to what it was,” she says. “Tom is really a good guy. He’s a liberal kind of gentleman who saw a need for the community.
“Is he changing a new leaf? I don’t think so. As he said, it would have never happened without his and my issue. He never would have thought of it. The issue also made a good public issue for (the club) … people like to go to places that are controversial.”
Anderson, who says he mulled the idea of revamping Anderson’s for “eight to nine months,” says he was never under any pressure to open a gay nightspot to make amends for his previous stance.
“I’m in the entertainment business,” says Anderson, who also owns Scottsdale’s Upper Deck Sports Grill. “I’m not in the middle of a political arena. I’m trying to provide the best entertainment for my business that I can ... I was hoping I would be accepted in the gay community for providing them a club being a straight man.”
Patrick Roland, managing editor at Echo magazine, a Valley gay magazine, says that people should give Forbidden a chance.
“Obviously there are going to be people who know all about the history and will protest for that and won’t go,” says Roland. “But overall the response has been positive and obviously the owner is trying to do something good over a bad situation, so we should give him a chance.”
If opening night — which attracted about 700 people Dec. 28 — was any indication, Forbidden should do well in Scottsdale.
“The dancing was spectacular,” says Anderson of the opening. “The fashion was impeccable. The energy that the gay crowd brings to the nightlife scene is phenomenal.”
Sam Holdren, field organizer for Equality Arizona, a gay rights group that has been involved in Scottsdale issues, says he attended the opening.
“Tom seemed to embrace everybody and everybody seemed to embrace Forbidden,” Holdren says. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of growth and learning throughout that process last year. This was a great way of ending the year and uniting the community.”
DeLaFreniere, who also attended the opening, agrees.
“Overall the club was very nice,” she says. “It’s a good club. He redid the place and it looks really upbeat, friendly. The dance floor is great and the DJs are very good, so I give it a high thumbs-up. I think that it’s something that Scottsdale will enjoy. It does give them another opportunity from going to (nearby bar) BS West.”
DeLaFreniere has one complaint, though.
“The mirrors are too low,” she groans. “They chop my head off and I have to bend down to take a look at the mirrors.”