Historical Essay. A group of exotic dancers carry a banner above a taxi during a funeral procession to symbolize the closure of Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco. Photo: Stephen Lam, Reuters Pictures.
Lusty lady and sex worker power
When the Lusty Lady began to offer live peep shows init ed the booming post-war sex district in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. San Francisco had a strong tradition of sex work establishments, from the early prostitution economy in the s Barbary Coast district, to the sexual revolution of the s and s that ushered in topless nightclubs, massage parlors, pornographic bookstores and movie theaters, peep shows, and strip clubs.
By the s, sex worker organizing in San Francisco was growing rapidly and facing the political establishment head-on. James Infirmary, the first occupation health clinic for sex workers, opened.
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Although the workers themselves brokered the collective-bargaining agreement, their demands were supported by ongoing sex work activism in San Francisco politics and civic life by the National Organization for Women, Margo St. James, and the constant organizing of sex workers in the city including exotic dancers, escorts, prostitutes, and massage parlor workers. Despite these advancements, the reality was that the he hierarchical union structure still did not provide workers with the agency they wanted. Lusty Lady employees demonstrate in front of the Lusty during the unionization drive.
The Lusty Lady created a groundbreaking model of employee-driven sex work that was protected by mainstream legislation.
Many dancers described working at the Lusty Lady as an overwhelmingly positive experience. The model of the Lusty Lady created a new, radical framework for both workers and society at large in relationship to the sex industry.
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Many forms of sex work are predicated on the isolation of individual sex workers from each other and from mainstream institutions. In a peep show, the dancers were together in a room and separated by glass windows from the customers, who sat in individual booths. One former Lustie explained that working in a unionized, collective environment was a stark break from the solitary experience of escorting and phone sex, allowing her to connect with other sex workers and rewrite the narrative of women working together. Dancers at the Regal Show World in San Francisco also tried to unionize, with the help of infiltrators from the Lusty Lady, but were circumvented by anti-union lawyers who shut down the club and changed ownership in order to avoid the unionization.
Exotic dancers have organized but failed to gain union recognition in Seattle, Anchorage, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas, and porn actors in the San Fernando Valley have repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, attempted to unionize as well. The unionized Lusties demanded full and equal recognition of their labor in the public sphere, and set a standard for rights and autonomy within traditionally feminine, private or taboo sectors of work.
However, the victories of the Lusty Lady were contingent on legislative discrimination that privileged exotic dancing over other forms of sex work. Prostitution is a crime in most U. These dramatic rent increases, as one expression of the intensified gentrification of San Francisco, impacted the character of North Beach including its demographics. The Lusty Lady was evicted by Forbes in after failing to make its rent. To mourn its closure, Lusty Lady dancers had a theatrical funeral through the streets of San Francisco.
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Photo: Kevin Warnock. Although the Lusty Lady closed inthe club left behind a legacy that outlives the union itself.
The Lusty was a final holdout against the monopolization of the strip industry in San Francisco, fighting to maintain its space as Roger Forbes quietly bought every major sex club in the city. Forbes and his properties are linked to Deja Vu Consulting, Inc.
Many dancers have expressed chagrin with the exotic dancing environment of the last decade, especially after the Lusty Lady disappeared, and took with it a stronghold of worker protections such as hourly wages and glass barriers between dancers and customers.
Legendary lusty lady to be no more.
: s s s North Beach Women Labor. What Links Here. Donate via PayPal one time or monthly or become a Patreon patron.
Share this :. The public visibility and political power of grassroots sex worker organizing in San Francisco grew rapidly in the s, most visibly with the unionization drive for the Lusty Lady peep show. The successful campaign created the most prominent unionized, worker-owned cooperative sex business in the United States and radically restructured the relationship between sex workers and organized labor.