PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A work culture of racist practices and sexual assault was what two unnamed exotic dancers spoke out against before they were fired from The Venue Gentlemen’s Club in Portland, according to a federal lawsuit.
According to the suit filed last month, while the club was closed for COVID, the dancers joined the Haymarket Pole Collective after they experienced racist treatment on the job.
The collective – a group of autonomous sex workers who advocate for the equitable treatment of black, indigenous and trans adult entertainers – later organized the “PDX Stripper Strike” movement where they called for local clubs (including the venue) to adopt a list of requests.
“The suggestions that we made were literally pulled off of the Bureau of Labor and Industries website that is a requirement for all businesses. All businesses in Oregon have to have a nondiscrimination policy, all businesses in Oregon have to have a plan not only to prevent but deal with sexual assault and sexual harassment when it happens,” said Cat Hollis, the founder of Haymarket Pole Collective. “I don’t think that it’s out of place or new to anybody in the community to see this type of retaliation for managers and hiring booking agents … There’s all sorts of excuses for why, we aren’t accepted, but really it comes down to western beauty standards and discrimination on hiring practices.”
And retaliation is exactly what the suit alleges, as it claims the venue’s manager stopped scheduling the dancers shortly after they spoke out.
The suit the states strippers were fired because “they in good faith reported information about racism and sexual assault that they and others experienced working at the club and defendant’s failure to comply with state anti-discrimination laws.”
The suit also claimed that “as a result of the defendant’s retaliatory conduct, the plaintiffs suffered lost income, emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, pain and suffering.”
“I don’t want any sex worker in Portland crying at 2 a.m,” Hollis said. “I want them to know that there’s somebody there for them, whether it’s peer support, whether it’s being a legal liaison to try to connect them to a lawyer who they can afford to try to represent them in these services.”
Hollis says until the culture changes, they will continue to fight for those who are marginalized.
“My goal is just to make sure that sex workers of all types, and especially those of color and transgender, sex workers feel that they have a place to go that’s safe,” Hollis said. “It is not dangerous to be a sex worker, culture has made it dangerous.”