Porn star and stripper Stormy Daniels returned to her hometown of Baton Rouge on Sunday and joined dozens of other women voicing opposition to what they consider a "sexist law" that raises the age requirement for dancers in Louisiana strip clubs.
Daniels gained national attention after she said Donald Trump paid her hush money to keep quiet about an affair before he became president, which he has denied.
The state legislature voted in 2016 to increase the minimum legal age for exotic dancers from 18 to 21. And an appeals court ruled last month that the change is enforceable and would go into effect — a decision that came following legal challenges from women who claimed lawmakers unfairly banned them from lucrative jobs and infringed on their constitutional right to free expression.
"Hi everybody, I am Stormy Daniels," said the demonstration's undisputed guest of honor, receiving enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. "Originally from right here in Baton Rouge. And I'm here to stand up for the rights of women."
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Daniels was one of more than 50 people — mostly women who work in New Orleans strip clubs — who stood shivering outside the State Capitol as gusts of wind whipped through downtown Baton Rouge. Some joked about the unusual spectacle of strippers bundled up in winter clothing. Others struggled to keep control of their handwritten signs, which displayed a variety of messages from "Let us dance" to "Feminist power" and "My body pays taxes!!!"
"Had this law been in effect when I was 18 and started dancing here in Louisiana, I would have missed out on many of the opportunities that I have been afforded," Daniels said. "This is an unconstitutional law. It eliminates the right of an adult woman to freely choose her occupation and express herself."
Daniels attended the protest in the role of spokesperson for Deja Vu Services, which bills itself as "the undisputed worldwide leader in live adult entertainment and adult retail stores."
The Baton Rouge native — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — has won widespread attention on the national stage in recent months after announcing she had an affair with Trump in 2006, which the president denies. Daniels has since sued Trump to void the confidentiality agreement she signed just before the 2016 presidential election.
She joined other strippers in arguing that Louisiana's new law is "widely considered a step backward for the rights of women."
Supporters claim it was designed to reduce human trafficking in response to undercover law enforcement operations that have found underage youths and children in foster care were often targeted to work at clubs.
"But common sense will tell you it's gonna have the opposite effect," Daniels said. "Many of these women who work this very legal occupation will be forced out of their jobs, unable to support their children (and) unable to make tuition payments."
Critics argue the change will actually push women into pursuing more dangerous sources of income. They also say that if people are old enough to join the military and consent to sex with another adult, they should also be allowed to perform exotic dance.
Protesters emphasized the fact that stripping is just a job — one that is highly accessible and often more lucrative than others.
Autumn Rayborn, 21, said she started stripping at age 18 because earning $6 an hour at a chicken restaurant simply wasn't enough to live on. She has since been able to gain independence and support her family, even getting custody of her younger sister. On top of financial stability, Rayborn said, stripping has given her confidence and hope for the future. She is considering enrolling in college someday.
"Lawmakers, the media, the public — they tend to infantilize (us) because they don't approve of our choices (and) they make laws without our consent," said Sable Mongold, 30. "But there's a lot of humanity behind the heels and glitter … and we will not retreat into the shadows any longer."
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that Louisiana can enforce the new age requirement, reversing an earlier ruling that deemed the law unenforceable in response to a suit filed by three young women alleging it violated their constitutional rights.
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