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Mark IV Baths

4424 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029
1975 1978
Flyer advertising the April 10, 1976, charity auction — with a privacy dot added. Back

On April 10, 1976, the Los Angeles Police Department staged a massive raid on a leather-community fundraiser at the Mark IV Baths. The event offered consenting SM enthusiasts who agreed to be auctioned for role-playing as slaves, with proceeds from the winning bids going to the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center and other gay charities.

Deploying helicopters, buses and dozens of cops — and bringing along television news crews — the LAPD invaded the gathering. Nearly 400 people were detained and 42 were arrested, including John Embry, the publisher of the leather magazine Drummer, and the first "Mr. Drummer" title-holder, Val Martin, who served as auctioneer. The police released public statements claiming they had halted an actual slave auction and describing the participants as dangerous perverts.

Val Martin later recalled, "We repeated many times what the [playful and charitable] purpose of the auction was. They made us lay on the ground, hands on our necks. They treated us like animals.... They were taking pictures, calling us names."

Ultimately, the district attorney charged only four of the participants, changing the violation from "slave dealing" to "prostitution." All received fines and community service. The homophobia displayed by the LAPD drew strong condemnation from gay leaders and the gay media — and the ACLU later dubbed the raid "one of the more blatant landmarks in the history of police paranoia with regards to the gay community."

Longtime activist Jim Fouratt, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, recalls that the event itself also drew criticism from some gay activists: "Yes, the participants were all consensual, but there was outrage from progressive gay people in the LA lesbian and gay community at the idea of a slave auction as both entertainment and as a fundraiser. I remember being active with the Lavender and Red Union and we spoke out against the racial insensitivity."

Flyer advertising the April 10, 1976, charity auction — with a privacy dot added.