The Love & Sex Issue 2024

I Find My Love Awake

The Ram-ifications of Breaking Your Own Rules

Love in Lockup

How I Proposed to My Wife from Prison

The Books of Love

A Poem Recommendation for Every Stage of a Relationship

Where to Pickup a Copy of The Stranger's Love & Sex Issue

It's Currently Available at Hundreds of Locations Around Seattle!

Washington Needs a Strippers’ Bill of Rights

New Proposal Reduces Fees on Dancers, Increases Security

The Stranger's Love & Sex Issue

Horny Poetry! Top Shortage Confirmed! How Sex Work Built Seattle! And Hundreds of Reader Valentines!

Take a Tour of Seattle’s Former Dens of Vice

Seattle Was Built on Sex Work—and Many of Those Buildings Are Still Standing

The Stranger’s 2024 Sex Survey Results

Orgies Slightly Up, the Binary Is Breaking, and Seattle’s Top Shortage Confirmed

Hundreds of Reader Valentines

Roses Are Red, You’re Looking Cute, One of These Love Notes May Be About You

At prime time on a Saturday night in January I paid a cover charge of $27 dollars to enter Dream Girls at Rick’s, a strip club of some repute in Lake City. Even at 11 pm, the dancers outnumbered the customers, about a dozen men sitting alone or in groups of three in plush, black chairs.

As one fully nude dancer slowly slinked to the floor and clacked her high-heels together, a middle-aged man sitting alone at the edge of the platform tossed out a single dollar bill, the woman’s only tip for the first half of her performance. After her song ended, the DJ played a round of canned applause, and then a waitress scurried to the stage to sweep up a handful of bills.

I leaned over and asked the man about the measly number of customers. He told me that clubs drew larger crowds before the pandemic, but they still hadn’t rebounded. And the way things are going, it’s hard to see how things will change without new state laws.

That’s where Strippers Are Workers (SAW) comes in. The campaign returned to Olympia this session with a bill to keep Washington’s strip clubs safe and sustainable for dancers by capping house fees and increasing safety measures. The bill mirrors legislation that the group proposed last session, minus an arguably controversial provision that created a liquor license for strip clubs. However, SAW hasn’t abandoned the fight for alcohol in clubs. Not only do clubs need the additional revenue stream to make entertainers less vulnerable to exploitation, a study shows that booze just brings better vibes.

The Details

The dancer-backed House Bill 2036, introduced by Rep. Amy Walen (D-Kirkland), expands labor protections for adult entertainers, requiring clubs to hire full-time security, make panic buttons more accessible, and install keypads in the dancers’ locker rooms.

The bill also caps fees that clubs charge dancers to work, known as “house fees,” and reduces some of the over-policing in the industry. (For instance, the measure stops cities from implementing laws that penalize dancers for touching their own bodies during a performance and dancing close to customers.)

Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle) introduced companion legislation, Senate Bill 6105, which echos the House bill but adds instructions for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to pull or suspend the liquor licenses of clubs that violate worker protections–though none of them have such licenses at the moment.

Last year’s bills failed largely due to opposition from a few lawmakers in key committee seats who raised concerns about increasing the accessibility of alcohol, booze making working conditions more dangerous for dancers, and enriching human traffickers by making strip clubs more profitable.

The Senate proposal creates a path for liquor licenses in clubs, but it doesn't establish the license, and the House bill points out that the LCB could just change the rules to allow them if it would like. The LCB has plans to review such a rule change after a series of raids at four gay bars last weekend. Over the phone, LCB spokesperson Brian Smith said they’d still like to see the Legislature create an actual liquor license for strip clubs or explicitly tell the LCB that they want the board to make changes to the current rules, otherwise the LCB thinks it could open itself up to a lawsuit.

SAW Campaign Manager Madison Zack-Wu said that alcohol sales would help pay for some safety precautions while also crucially relieving the pressure on dancers to generate all the profit for clubs. Without liquor sales, clubs make their money by charging dancers high house fees, which means strippers start the night in debt and often end it by turning over to management most of the money they shook their asses for.

And it’s not like banning booze in clubs stops customers from drinking–in practice, many people just arrive drunk or else get loaded in the parking lot, making consumption difficult to monitor. In a public hearing before lawmakers last month, dancers said the lack of paid staff and security at clubs means they’re often left to deal with drunk customers all on their own.

Finally, one must consider the vibes. A 2020 report by the Adult Entertainer Advisory Committee showed that clubs with booze attracted a wider variety of customers–not just those looking to ogle–which leads to a safer environment for dancers.

Drinking with the Boys

Back at Rick’s, I noticed many of the behaviors the dancers flagged in their testimony. The vibes felt variously menacing or catatonic, and customers definitely found ways to get lit without a bar.

A group of three dudes who I hadn’t seen throw a single dollar suddenly found their wallets when a new dancer took the stage. After watching her routine, one of the guys told me they hailed from Vancouver, B.C. They were “bummed” about the lack of booze and complained about having to juggle their time in the club with their time knocking back liquor in the lot. The guy offered to let me join them for a drink outside, which I appreciated but declined.

Overall, my experience at the club was fine, but it felt downright funereal in comparison to the sexy-funhouse-energy that characterizes the fundraising events SAW has held over the past year at the Cha Cha Lounge on Capitol Hill.

At those stripteases, dancers performed for a packed bar filled with people of all genders rather than a sparse crowd of mostly men. Sure, the dancers had to wear pasties and keep their labias covered, but the relative modesty changed nothing for the crowd, who whooped and hollered as dancers performed their hot acrobatics. People actually rained dollar bills down on the dancers, something I only saw once that Saturday at Rick’s, when a dancer’s regular showered her with cash.

To be fair, these Wednesday night fundraising events for supporters probably draw a different crowd than the kind that would typically show up at the strip club even if the clubs served alcohol. But they showed at least an example of how positive a destigmatized sex-worker event can be. Dancers compared the fundraisers to nights when they performed in Oregon, where clubs serve alcohol and somehow still maintain a functioning society.

Back in Olympia

Zack-Wu hopes to have more success this session. During her testimony to the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee in January, she told the committee that without financial stability and safety at clubs, the dancers face continued harm in and outside of the venues.

“We are the dancers working and organizing in these clubs, knowing what needs to change, and we are asking that you stand with us and make our workplaces safer,” Zack-Wu said.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins failed to respond to several requests for comment from The Stranger.

Editor's note: We've updated this story to reflect some of the recent news surrounding these bills and the actions of the LCB, so it's a little different from in the print edition that ran in The Stranger's Love and Sex Issue 2024.