It's an odd American dichotomy, the South's bible belt blended with a thriving strip club economy. But in Houston, that very chasm is the source of a 16 year lawsuit from the city against a number of local clubs.
At issue is a 1997 law that imposed tough restrictions on the location and operation of strip clubs, regulating everything from a dancer's state of undress to the dimness of the lighting. But while the city and several club owners were busy suing one another over the law and other measures, the number of topless bars steadily increased, and their managers were ignoring or sidestepping the restrictions.
Listed in the Sexually Oriented Business Law, according to the New York Times, are provisions like mandatory bright lighting, no touching or private rooms, and strippers must maintain a three foot distance from customers while performing. Now the city and the clubs named in the lawsuit have reached a tentative truce.
The new agreement freed the 16 clubs involved in the lawsuits from abiding by the 1997 law and required the owners to contribute $1 million annually to a unit in the Houston Police Department devoted to fighting human trafficking.
In addition, topless dancing returns along with touching but club lights still have to be bright, to deter any dimly lit foul play. And while this may sound like a win to some, religious groups along with anti-sex-trafficking activists aren't satisfied. The groups feel it allows the named clubs to "buy their way out" of the law and does little to combat underage sex trafficking and prostitution. Also, this truce only applies to the 16 clubs named in the lawsuit, while the other countless establishments must still adhere to 1997's Sexually Oriented Business Law, which they've long maneuvered around.
Yeah, I don't think that makes much sense either. Still, Houston's Mayor Annise D. Parker is trying to make it work.
"I think a lot of the discussion out in the community is from people who simply do not like the adult entertainment industry," she told reporters. "This is not about the adult entertainment industry, how I feel about it or not. This is about the settling of a 16-year lawsuit and actually getting something for that settlement."
David M. Feldman, Houston's City Attorney, says undercover officers will still monitor the clubs for underage and illegal activity. Elsewhere, dancer Jolie says this is all much ado about nothing and her customers really just come by her club to talk. And for the chicken wings, right? OK, girl. *rolls eyes*
Ultimately, in a Southern city like Houston the adult entertainment industry is pretty ingrained. Still, while some women choose to dance for a living, others are forced into sexual servitude and strip clubs can serve as a trafficking stop which is unacceptable. I hope Houston's political, religious and club factions can make their collective environment as healthy and legal as possible. Just like some men just want to eat some chicken wings while watching women dance — Treasures, one Houston club, has a free buffet and a shoeshine station — some women like to twerk for their bill money.
Image via Getty.