Workers at several Bourbon Street gentlemen's clubs are planning demonstrations next week to protest recent Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) raids that have temporarily shuttered several establishments.
As reported by the New Orleans Advocate and The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, the raids affected eight clubs including Dixie Divas, Rick's Sporting Saloon, Scores and Temptations and resulted in suspended alcohol licenses at several venues on and around Bourbon Street.
But closures that stemmed from the raids put hundreds of people out of work over the course of an evening, Rick's Sporting Saloon general manager Lee Laurent says. Laurent is one of the workers helping organize club employees for demonstrations on Bourbon Street, with a primary march set for the evening of Thursday, Feb. 1.
[jump] Workers will march to protest the raids, the resulting loss of income and city agencies many see as antagonistic to the adult entertainment industry.
"There’s a lot of people who are really affected by this," Laurent says. With these marches, “[the city] would be forced to see ... we’re here to stay. We’re not just going to give this up easily. We’re passionate about our work."
In his view, the recent raids are part of a pattern of city efforts to "clean the street up." But he says recent attempts to uncover human trafficking in the clubs haven't found much of anything, and club closures associated with the raids have caused turmoil in the lives of dancers and other workers, who are now scrambling to pay bills, cancel classes and find other jobs in the thick of Carnival season and amid uncertainty in the industry.
“I don’t think that they thought [of the] implications of these raids. They want to prove so much that there’s ... human trafficking, but they didn’t rescue one girl from human
trafficking. They didn’t arrest one pimp," he says. (ATC has not formally announced a complete list of violations from recent raids).
"You're hurting way too many people, and then where do these jobs go?"
Laurent also said that workers were shaken by the conduct of the raids at Rick's Sporting Saloon, where dancers alleged officers photographed them in their dance outfits, intruded on dressing rooms where women were undressing, read their real names aloud and met them in what appeared to be riot gear.
As of Saturday, more than 700 people had said they were "interested" in attending Thursday's march on Facebook.
Elsewhere on social media, workers condemned the raids and initiatives targeting stripclubs, saying the city often conflates adult entertainment and human trafficking and mischaracterizes their workplaces. In a post that has been shared more than 90 times, a Rick's Sporting Saloon entertainer argued for legitimacy of gentlemen's clubs and said that workers are being placed in financial peril by people who willfully misunderstand the industry.
In a phone call with Gambit, the entertainer, who goes by Daisy, said the recent raids and closures couldn't have come at a worse time for the bartenders, waitstaff, floor hosts and dancers who staff the clubs.
“This past year has been a difficult year. ... We were already making 40 percent of what we normally do, because of the [Bourbon Street] construction. Most of the people did not have the savings that they would normally have in any other year because they were making less money," she said. "Being out of work for seven days, 30 days or however long it's going to be, is going to dramatically affect everyone's living situation."
An online petition from Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers (BARE), a group which "advocates for the safety, civil and labor rights of all individuals working in erotic entertainment" also is circulating. In its petition, the group opposes raids, surveillance, a proposed ordinance to limit adult entertainment clubs by blockface and regulations which require dancers to be 21.
Gentlemen's clubs have been a frequent target for reform from city and state officials over the past few years. A 2016 New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) study concentrated on "Adult Live Performance Venues" and recommended limitations to the number of such venues and updates to licensing requirements for clubs. Also in 2016, Louisiana legislators attempted to ban dancers under age 21 in clubs and were met with a legal challenge from a group of New Orleans and Baton Rouge dancers.
A CPC vote to limit to cap the number of gentlemen's clubs per block in the Vieux Carre Entertainment District is set for Feb. 6.
Laurent, the club manager, says campaigns to limit the industry cast gentlemen's clubs as something other than what they are to the people who work there.
"It’s good money, it’s a fun time, it’s not a bad industry to work in," he says. "We’re not doing anything that’s putting the city at jeopardy, or doing anything wrong for that matter. We’re just all out here trying to make an honest living."