New Orleans City Planning Commission is voting on whether to limit strip clubs in the French Quarter. This is dangerous and discriminatory, and must be halted.
Last winter, I stuffed away my hat and gloves and flew to New Orleans. I had been stripping steadily in Manhattan for a little under a year, but I was desperate for a change of scenery. Cold weather and cold attitudes had worn me down.
I headed into the French Quarter, warmed with relief. The sunny and boisterous streets welcomed me like a cozy bar after a day of hard labor. Beer in hand and smile on my face, I strolled down Bourbon Street, eyeing Hustler, Stilettos, Ricks, Scores, assessing what club I thought was best.
I’m not usually this confident when I travel to a new city for work. A few months prior, I flew to Philadelphia and Austin, but I was nervous and dubious walking into new clubs. Will I get hired? Will it be safe? Will management be decent?
What was reassuring about Bourbon Street was the sheer number and close proximity of clubs. If I felt uncomfortable or unsafe, I could walk out and try another just down the street. Whereas in other cities, clubs are pushed outside the city limits, far apart and inaccessible, in NOLA the options for work are neatly lined up. And there is power in visible choices.
Tomorrow, The New Orleans City Planning Commission is holding a hearing to limit the number of strip clubs in the French Quarter. The proposal would set a cap of 13 strip clubs (the current amount), limit clubs to one-every-other-block face, and, if a club closes, to not allow another to open in its place. If it passes, it will rezone the Vieux Carre Entertainment District, which extends six blocks along Bourbon Street from Iberville to St. Ann, to slowly push strip clubs out of the French Quarter. I’m terrified because it will thrust dancers, local and traveling, into a more precarious existence.
Burdened with student debt, the industry had been a lifesaver, my ticket to freedom. It wasn’t my first choice for work after college, but I quickly discovered many benefits of dancing: strong community, confidence, flexible lifestyle, opportunity to travel. I work hard for a few months and then concentrate on writing for a few weeks. It’s a lifestyle that compliments my difficulties with short-term memory and planning and organizing, which make it difficult for me to hold down a “regular job”. I rely on the industry and it has been and still is a welcome tool in my survival.
Spearheaded by Councilwoman Stacy Head, part of impetus behind the proposal is to address prostitution and illegal drugs in French Quarter clubs. In the face of this, one might think tightening labor laws could alleviate problematic strip clubs practices that put dancers’ safety at risk, such as mandating cameras in the VIP rooms or enforcing employment status for entertainers. Both factors that would put pressure on management to be accountable for providing a safe workplace. But that hasn’t been the city’s approach.
For those unaware of how strippers are hired, most of us are classified as independent contractors yet are not treated as such, as management holds a considerable amount of control over how we earn money and navigate the club. This loophole allows managers to operate outside of labor laws, and thus get away with discriminating and providing unsafe work environments. If something were to happen, a fall down the stairs or an overdose, management is not at fault, even though dancers are employees by definition.
Not having employment security is dangerous but I am protected by options. My voice is dependent on choices in clubs. If managers are rude and calloused, if my safety is not prioritized, if I am treated like meat instead of human, I can walk out, and I have over and over again. Managers are fully cognizant of your options and this is why they treat dancers who have fewer choices worse. Dancers of color, mature dancers, dancers between the ages of 18–21, bigger-bodied dancers, dancers with tattoos, undocumented dancers, and any other person who struggles to get hired will be far more vulnerable if this proposal passes.
It’s terrifying because what will closing down clubs solve? Other than strip us of control and push us further into silence. I will be less likely to speak up about poor conditions, forced to wager my safety for money — a choice I have yet had to make.
It just drives an already vulnerable population deeper into silence.
My job is not always pretty, but the ability to walk out of clubs and try out another is how I maintain my power and sanity. I will be subjected to management’s whims if clubs are capped.
So if it will limit dancers’ options why is the city pushing to shut down clubs?
The council also cited a growing concern of sex trafficking that was reported in a recent investigation to be connected with French Quarter clubs. The report is difficult to trust because it pulls on salacious language and sexualized images, but I will not deny the presence of trafficking. I have never seen it in any New Orleans club or came across a pimp, even though the report suggested Bourbon street “is a playground for Pimps.” Alas, I’m only one person, but I’m unsure of how shutting down clubs will help heal trafficking which other reports have shown to be a byproduct of a broken child welfare system. The most economically and socially vulnerable are at risk for trafficking, and shutting down clubs will not salve this. It merely forces victims underground with fewer routes for escape.
Capping clubs will not magically address labor violations or provide support networks for trafficking victims to escape and heal. And wiping out our places of work doesn’t take away the need to make money. We all have to survive. If we can’t dance, we will work illegally or take the streets.
Shutting clubs will just drive an already vulnerable population deeper into silence.
Additionally, using prostitution, drugs, and trafficking to justify capping clubs, without addressing how to keep them off Bourbon street, shows the proposal is a cruel facade to sanitize NOLA. If we’re out of the French Quarter, then we’re not visible, and then no one will mind if we cease to exist