Lyn Archer speaks about the closure of strip clubs on Bourbon Street to members of BARE, Bourbon Alliance for Responsible Entertaining, who represent strippers and have strippers in their membership, on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. 

Shivering on the steps of the State Capitol, 50 of my colleagues shared a megaphone in protest of Louisiana's recent “stripper age ban.” Lawyer Scott Bergthold, defending Attorney General Jeff Landry against three now-jobless Jane Does, denied women under 21 the right to strip based on, essentially, a high school dress code. “These girls,” the judge stated, “want to wear the bare minimum,” overturning a federal injunction, splashing restrictive precedent all over a lawsuit on wrongful termination.

As a Baton Rouge teenager, stripping helped our spokeswoman Stormy Daniels “escape a very dangerous” household. We reiterate: working in a swimsuit presents far less danger than the decisions we’d stared down in adolescence: entering military service, shouldering student debt, moving, marrying, parenting, taking on independence and dependents at once. Underage women may still work as bartenders, cocktail waitresses, shot girls — closer proximity to alcohol, half the pay. Before I began stripping at 19, I was a lifeguard at the municipal pool. I wore a red bikini, a lanyard between my breasts, the whistle I’d blow when people got out of line.

“These girls” and I have reason to shiver. New Orleans City Council members representing the Vieux Carre and New Orleans East have resurrected Stacy Head’s widely unpopular “alcohol beverage outlet” ordinance, ceding automatic power to the state to suspend, cite, fine, and close bars, clubs and liquor stores; mandating surveillance, retrofitting, and civilian policing. Only five property-owning residents may conjoin to declare any "ABO" a “nuisance,” but 75 percent of neighbors must petition to keep it afloat. Only those of “good moral character” may receive a permit. The same council members amused by our dream of a stripper-owned club now plan its impossibility.

It’s a hate crime to hurt someone because of the way they have sex. Add money, and sex becomes the crime. “Lewd conduct,” “obscenity,” “moral turpitude": all euphemisms drawn from New Orleans’ tricentennial depths, explicitly profiling people via sexuality and gender, race and land of origin. Enforcement does more violence than we “lewd and lascivious” lovers and workers. Those pitting us against our “exploitative” workplaces draft laws against “consorting with prostitutes” — closing whole establishments over “thought crimes” — sexy talk, touching, smiling and nodding.

My lifeguard training included treading water while holding a brick over my head, having it knocked from my hands, diving to retrieve it from the deep end. While our red-light district crumbles, sex workers beneath Interstate 10 report actual bricks thrown at them from passing cars. Stigma threatens stamina for some, survival for others. We all came into this work through the conditions of our lives. No amount of social punishment will keep us from work with total schedule flexibility and a real living wage: our bare minimum.

Lyn Archer


New Orleans