After a series of raids on Seattle gay bars prompted queer communities to speak out against rules restricting nudity in places with liquor licenses, last week prominent members of Washington’s LGBTQ+ community published a letter in support of legislation allowing strip clubs to sell alcohol, a move that would fund worker protections for dancers and make the environment at clubs more sociable and less kinda weird and creepy. 

With queer communities adding to the pressure on state lawmakers to act, Strippers Are Workers (SAW), a group of dancers organized in support of the bill, may finally have the backing they need to put booze in clubs. However, the future of the SAW campaign rests on whether proponents can make an ally of House Speaker Laurie Jinkins.

Gays bars scored a major win last week when the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) paused enforcement of state “lewd conduct” rules and announced a plan to reexamine those rules. However, Joey Burgess, who owns Queer Bar and The Cuff Complex (which the LCB raided last week); Kevin Krauer, owner of Massive; Dan Savage of the Savage Lovecast and Index Media; and other members of the LGBTQ+ community made it clear that Capitol Hill bars shouldn’t be the only ones to benefit from these rule changes. 

In a public letter, Burgess, Krauer, Savage, and several dancers from the SAW campaign called the lewd conduct rules that restrict nudity-around-alcohol at gay bars and alcohol-around-nudity at strip clubs “paternalistic” and stigmatizing, arguing they were rooted in a desire to police bodies and limit sexual expression.

In an interview with The Stranger, Burgess pointed out that sex workers and the queer community have a huge amount of overlap, and many of the people and performers who work in his clubs also work in the adult entertainment industry.

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Since 2018, SAW has fought for changes to LCB’s rules around lewd conduct. SAW has argued that revenue from alcohol sales could support the worker protections they’re pushing for this session by helping fund more security measures for clubs, reducing club exploitation of dancers for profit, and attracting a broader audience to the clubs, which could result in fewer customers visiting the clubs only for a sexual experience. 

That argument hasn’t seemed to sway Speaker Jinkins just yet. At a press conference earlier this year, she shared her doubts about alcohol expansion leading to better working conditions for dancers. She said House Bill 2036, which establishes worker protections for strippers without making changes to the lewd conduct rules, had much more support in her chamber. 

That said, Jinkins, who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ Caucus, made those comments before major figures in the LGBTQ+ community wrote a public letter in support of booze in strip clubs and connected the issue to discrimination against the queer community. Since then, she has not responded to questions about whether she’s changed her mind. 

Right now, the likely path for changes to LCB rules seems to be SAW’s Senate Bill 6105, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), which lawmakers expect to pass out of the Senate later this week, possibly with bipartisan support. The bill directs the LCB to amend or abolish its lewd conduct rules to allow adult entertainment venues to serve alcohol. The bill also says the agency cannot grant a club a license until it implements the worker protections outlined in the bill.

Rep. Amy Walen (D-Kirkland), who sponsored HB 2036, said she dropped the bill’s language about a liquor license in response to opposition in the House, but she hopes that language makes it back into the final bill. Walen said that she respects her colleagues in the temperance caucus and their concerns about the dangers of alcohol, but the dancers want this for their workplaces, and in Washington state the Legislature almost always listens to and trusts the workers, “except for these workers, it seems like,” she said. 

If the bill passes both the House and Senate, then Governor Jay Inslee will need to sign it before it becomes law. Inslee’s spokesperson was mum on the Governor’s position and would only say only that he appreciates the Legislature’s efforts to improve these workplaces.