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Activist Spotlight: BARE on the Mass Closure of Strip Clubs in New Orleans

via BARE’s Instagram

An unholy mix of gentrification and trafficking hysteria created the perfect political climate to allow law enforcement to shutter several New Orleans strip clubs, leaving scores of dancers unemployed. The Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers rapidly sprung into action; they disrupted the mayor’s press conference and organized the Unemployment March the following night, which drew national attention. I talked to them about the situation in NOLA, their strategy, and their future plans.

So, to start, what is BARE? How long has BARE existed and what kind of activism does BARE do?

Lindsey: BARE is the Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers. We are an organization run by strippers, for strippers. I started coming to meetings a few months ago, but some of our members have been at this since the Trick or Treat raids of 2015. What we do first and foremost is provide a voice that’s been previously underexposed during the city’s assault on strip clubs: the voice of actual strippers. We’re attempting to work with city officials to influence policies and decisions that affect us. Outside of that, we really just want to foster community among dancers and show the people who don’t understand us that we are valuable members of the New Orleans community. During our first ever charity tip drive, participating dancers donated all of their tips from a Friday night’s work to a women’s shelter. Strippers literally paid that shelter’s rent for six months!

Lyn Archer: I arrived in New Orleans after being laid off from two seasonal jobs in a row, one in secretarial work and one in hospitality. I was on unemployment and got a job cocktail-waitressing at a Larry Flynt drag club. One night, a few weeks before Christmas, the club closed without notice and let everyone go. That’s when I saw how quickly fortunes could reverse on Bourbon Street and how little protection there is for workers. My first week on Bourbon, I was the likely the only stripper that didn’t realize that Operation Trick or Treat had just happened. I entered a work environment where strippers were scared, mgmt was over-vigilant, and customers were scarce. Everyone seemed confused about “the rules.” I later learned that’s because what’s written into the city code about “lewd and lascivious conduct” is different than state law and different than federal law. But these supposed “anti-trafficking” efforts are a collaboration of badges. Undercover agents from many offices move through the clubs. I began researching and writing on this for my column in Antigravity, called “Light Work.” I began to see how a feedback loop between press, law enforcement, self-styled “anti-trafficking” groups and civic policymakers can cause so much destruction for people they haven’t even considered. The club I started at was the first to close. The club was inside a building that was the house Confederate president Jefferson Davis lived in. The house I live in was the home of a Confederate general. We are working against, while inside-of, unfolding histories that are deeply, deeply violent. The more I learn about the history of sex worker resistance in New Orleans, the more I know this fight is lifetimes old and will replicate itself if we do not end it entirely.

Donut Ho: Sex Work In The Strangest Places

By now the New Jersey Donut Ho is national news. How couldn’t she be? She was allegedly turning tricks at a Dunkin’ Donuts. You couldn’t pick a place with more cops if you were working inside an actual police station. To summarize: A woman who worked the late shift at a DD in Rockaway, NJ would leave her post at the drive-though window to entertain customers in their cars. She was arrested (and released) after six weeks of undercover investigation, a typical waste of public resources on pursuing victimless crimes. Well, not victimless; if anyone has standing for damages in this instance, it’s her employer, yeah?

Her choice of venue was unusual and entrepreneurial, though she wasn’t the first person to choose a nontraditional venue for selling sex. Here’s some other stories about similar go-getters in the sex trade.

8 Minutes Hate: A&E Plans to Ambush Sex Workers

the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”

“Women who sell their bodies” used to be the go-to word combination that triggered my gag reflex right into action. But “hooker-rescuing cop-turned-pastor” was introduced to my life this week and has transformed my once-tranquil apartment into Lane Champagne’s Extreme Vomitorium. The man with this heinous career trajectory is Kevin Brown and he’s starring in a new reality show tentatively titled 8 Minutes after its premise: He has eight minutes to convince sex workers to leave behind their whoring ways. Those who leave sex work are given free training in the second career of their choice and those who decline are sent on their merry way with Brown’s best wishes for a good earning season. HAHA, just kidding, none of that last sentence is true because whorephobia is pernicious and Earth has actually been Hell along!

Of all the professions to produce potential sex work interventionists, law enforcement and clergy are at the very top of the Unsuitable list. Behind those two are literally every single other profession, because sex work interventions are vile exercises in the hatred and shaming of sex working individuals and shouldn’t exist. And it certainly shouldn’t exist as a spectacle on cable television. There is a Change.org petition to get A&E to shut that shit down, you should sign it. Let’s also take out a Backpage ad in every possible city warning local sex workers to be prepared for lurking reality show cameras.

Producer Tom Forman (the man behind the legally and ethically challenged Kid Nation) told Entertainment Weekly that the show was inspired by an LA Times article about Brown’s rescue missions. That story opens with another cop-turned-resucuer showing up to a woman’s outcall and doing this:

Reese reaches into the pocket of his tan cargo shorts and pulls out a latex condom. There’s a phone number scribbled on one side in black marker. He hands it to her.

He asks if she sees the phone number.

She examines the packet but ignores the question. She presses him for the money.

“I’m not really here for a date,” Reese says. “I’m here to offer you help.”

They rescue this one woman (on the night the reporter is along!), despite having been on 60 previous missions without anyone taking up their offer. She didn’t get career training; she got a one-way ticket home on a Greyhound. And lo, from this massive service to women a reality show was born, one with a 50/50 success rate according to Forman, who also told EW “Sometimes they turn and leave, but that’s the case when trying to save prostitutes.”

Leaving aside the fact that Brown is sentient diarrhea more than he’s an actual person, I’ve broken down the reasons the very concept of the show is a bad idea for two primary types of sex worker that Brown targets: people who don’t want to leave sex work and people who do.

Daughters Shouldn’t be Prostitutes…or Treated as Full Human Beings

This might come as a shock, but all of us here at Tits and Sass are daughters. For Freakonomics-famous, probably John Mayer-loving Steven Levitt, this is a hard pill to swallow. He thinks that because women so often are dissuaded from performing illegal sex work because of its illegality (ha,) it is a good idea to keep prostitution criminalized.  More precisely, he’s okay with the government limiting and penalizing his daughter’s behavior rather than allowing her to make her own choices because, apparently, women need protection from themselves and their bad decisions:

Daniel Holtzclaw, Black Women, And The Myth of Police Protection

aholtzclawbirthday

Content warning: this piece contains general discussion of rape.

On his 29th birthday, December 10th, former Oklahoma City Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who targeted low income, criminalized Black women and girls for sexual assault while on duty, was found guilty of 18 of the 36 charges brought against him. He now faces up to 263 years in prison when he is formally sentenced next month. His crimes were calculated and monstrous. But as uplifting as it is to hear his vindicated victims sing “Happy Birthday,” I can’t help but feel like the knife stuck six inches into my back has only been pulled out three inches.

Holtzclaw’s crimes are far from a rarity. The Associated Press reported that from 2009 to 2014, almost 1000 officers have been decertified or terminated due to sexual misconduct. A 2010 study published by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project reported that sexual misconduct was the second most common form of police misconduct. The report also found “assault and sexual assault rates significantly higher for police when compared to the general population.”

Holtzclaw’s crimes were hardly covered by major outlets and that tepid coverage robbed me of any lasting feeling of accomplishment in his conviction. And according to prosecutors, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mirror, The New York Times, Jezebel, the Daily Beast, the Washington Post and many other publications, this rapist is behind bars because he “messed up“: he raped the “wrong” woman, Janie Ligons, a woman with no previous criminal record, no record of drug use or sex work—someone who felt free to report her rape. This woman was someone whose assault demanded an answer.

If Ligons is the “wrong” victim, then am I and hundreds of thousands of other Black sex workers the “RIGHT” victim? Historically speaking, in America, the answer is yes, and that terrifies me. It’s hard to puff out your chest and declare the Holtzclaw verdict proof of progress when he wouldn’t have been taken off the streets had Ligons not come forward. Ligons filed a civil suit against Oklahoma City prior to the criminal trial. She seeks damages based on the fact that Holtzclaw was already being investigated for sexual misconduct but was allowed to continue to patrol low income Black neighborhoods. At least one other woman, identified as TM, made a report to police previously that Holtzclaw assaulted her before Ligons was raped.