Strip clubs instituting arbitrary, sexist policies against women isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. For every story of a rowdy bachelorette party is a story of a couple of women being denied entry at the same joint. But it’s safe to say that few of these altercations have been spun into a lawless left-wing conspiracy as quickly as the tale of two women who were denied entry at an Orlando strip club because they weren’t accompanied by a man.
The incident has prompted a lawsuit and an ideological clash between Florida’s progressive local ordinances and the state’s more conservative civil rights laws. And now what seems like an open and shut case of gender discrimination could end up challenging Florida’s constitution.
Brittney Smith was a regular at Rachel’s Orlando, an Orlando strip club she frequented with a male friend. She noticed that one of the dancers was a spitting image of her friend, Anita Yanes. Smith invited Yanes to the strip club to see her twin for herself, and in February 2018, Yanes made the long journey from Alabama for a girls’ night out to do just that. Except, they never even made it through the front door.
From the Washington Post:
When the two women arrived, they were informed they wouldn’t be allowed to enter without a man, the lawsuit says. A manager explained that the policy was intended to discourage prostitution and that unaccompanied women might take men’s attention off the strippers. Plus, there was the risk that women would come in looking for their husbands and “cause drama.”
Orange County, where Rachel’s Orlando is located, has a human rights ordinance that protects individuals from discrimination based on “age, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, familial status, sex, or sexual orientation.” Smith and Yanes’ lawyers argued that Rachel’s violated the ordinance. But according to the Sun Sentinel, Rachel’s lawyers argued that their establishment didn’t violate Florida’s Civil Rights Act, which supersedes state law. Circuit Judge Keith Carsten agreed, and on May 20 dismissed the case. Smith and Yanes have filed an appeal, and they’re not alone.
Cities like Miami Beach, Delray Beach, and several others have contributed friend-of-the-court briefings to Smith and Yanes’ case, worried that if their lawsuit is dismissed, it sets a grim precedent for local law. Local ordinances often protect marginalized groups in ways that state and federal law do not, but they’re of little use if they’re ignored by the courts.
From the Orlando Sentinel:
[Carsten’s] ruling could void 46 local protection measures like Orange County’s, preventing local governments from barring discrimination, Robert Rosenwald, a city attorney for Miami Beach.
“At its most broad, the ruling stands for the proposition that local governments can’t prohibit discrimination at all,” Rosenwald said. “It could be incredibly damaging to municipalities around the state.”
Meanwhile, Steven Mason—a lawyer representing Rachel’s—is thrilled that so many jurisdictions are terrified of the implications that this case has for their most vulnerable constituents. Here’s what he wrote in an e-mail to the Orlando Sentinel:
“My thought, my opinion, is that the left-leaning cities and counties in our state are opposed to the legislation promulgated by the Republican-dominated Florida legislature, thus they are attempting to gut state law,” Mason said in an email. “Yes, this case is of crucial constitutional importance and I understand why certain cities and counties across the state are in a panic that their anti-discrimination codes may be invalidated.”
“I hope that they are; they are unconstitutional.”
Several Florida communities, LGBTQ, and disability advocacy groups are on Smith and Yanes’ side. Time will tell if it’ll matter.