A head’s up: the following is not a direct transcript, but merely some notes on different people’s perspectives and questions during the Nevada Brothel panel. I have not included all the people who spoke because I wasn’t able to track down everyone and ask if they were okay with being quoted on the blog – I will add more as I get clearance. If you were in the room and feel that any of the perspectives here are misrepresented, please comment or email me.

Each of the three featured panelists had 5-7 minutes to speak and present their perspective. A forth panelist, Zimmy, who is a worker at the Kit Kat Ranch brothel was unable to attend.

George Flint(Nevada Brothel Owner’s Association) – His main point was that sex worker activists should stop aggressively targeting the police and politicians in their campaigns and instead focus on (referred to below as GF).

Lorraine Harper (Manager of Sherri’s Ranch) focused on the professionalization of the sex industry that has occurred in recent years. She said that it’s really important to change the public’s perceptions of both sex industry workers and clients (referred to below as LH).

Geoff Arnold (Owner of Donna’s Ranch) seconded Lorraine’s comments and said that Nevada’s legal brothels are becoming really good examples of corporate America (referred to below as GA).

Carol Queen opened up the floor mic for discussion and identified herself as the floor monitor. To start off discussion, she said that she was interested in the potential for demonstrating diversity of the sex industry in this panel because we rarely we rarely hear from brothel workers or brothel owners. She also challenged the language that the panelists were using, and suggested that the brothel workers should be called women or goddesses instead of “girls.”

Carol Leigh expressed concern that legal brothels are under attack and asked people to consider how can sex workers and brothel management can work together and have discourse about theses differences.

Robyn Few agreed that sex workers should take it to the streets and work with the public instead of the government. She also asked “where are the women owners of the brothels?”
-GF responded to say that at one point, especially in the 1940s, women were the only ones licensed to be owners, but about 25 years ago (just like in gaming industry) – men began to see the opportunity to turn brothels into a more streamlined, more professional business and they began to invest in and buy out female owners. Today many brothels generally have the sense to bring women in as general managers.

Stacey S. reiterated that the conversation between workers and brothel managers is a delicate conversation that has to happen for all of us. She pointed out that selling sex illegally takes away our ability to negotiate for safety and brought up issues of decriminalization and safer sex more generally. She also asked why brothels cater to heterosexuals and complicated the conversation by bringing in the queer and transgender perspective.
-GF slightly misunderstood the questions and pointed out that no one (including Heidi Fleiss) has come up with a model that works for brothels where male workers are available for women.
-LH stated that couples make up a majority of their clients.

Candice Seppa Arroyo, MA said that she felt that sex workers and sex worker activists are being misunderstood and spoke against legalized brothels being the only option. She pointed out that the key point of decriminalization is the choice of who to work for and that more options are important.
-GF said that to the best of his knowledge the brothel system is the only one that is sustainable. His fear of full decriminalization is that workers won’t be protected by the law.

Candice then asked why there isn’t mandatory testing for clients in brothels when testing is becoming mandatory for workers?

-GA responded that at Donna’s there are 6000 regular clients so it’s not possible to test them all, instead the workers are tested because it is a small and controlled population.
-GF said that Nevada does 59,000 Elisa tests* every month for workers, no one has ever tested positive, but they have turned away about 35 women who applied for jobs and tested positive. HIV positive women cannot work in legalized Nevada brothels.

Starchild agreed that there should be the right to work in brothels and workers should have a choice to work in them but asked whether the brothel managers thought that workers should have a right to work elsewhere? He also asked if the managers encourage workers to become activists and gave the option of answering yes or no to the question of whether law enforcement should stop arresting independent workers?
-LH said that the managers don’t promote sex worker rights organizations – but we are the only legal alternative to your work. If you break the law you should be arrested – so illegal street workers should be arrested. The problem is the work should be legalized
-GA – yes, LE should stop arresting street workers

Maxine Duggan stated that as employees or as independent contractors, we want to be able to organize. We are always defending ourselves and want to think of ourselves as a big group and think about ways to proactively get the movement moving forward. She asked about the workers contracts and the degree to which they are negotiable.
-LH said that at Sherri’s ranch the workers and managers work together to produce good contracts that work for both parties. She also said that the brothel feels that workers have a right to work in a drug free environment, so they do random drug searches with dogs. There is also a 6 drink maximum per 24 hour period.

Leslie Bull wanted to make clear that violence against women has nothing to do with prostitution. She also commented on an earlier statement by one of the owners that workers have high earnings of $300k-$400k a year and said that these earnings are only possible for women who look like supermodels.
-GF rejected the assumption that only model-perfected women could do well and said that the most successful lady is the one with the best personality and the best smile.
-GA commented that his workers make $30k-$70k a year.

Lady Aster of San Francisco identified herself as a transwoman and asked if there are any transwomen working in the legalized Nevada brothels.
-LH said there are none at Sherri’s Ranch.
-GA said he’s had none at either Donna’s location in the past ten years.
-GF said that they don’t apply for jobs.

Melissa Gira gave the feedback that brothels should view themselves as fundamentally contributing to the community. She also wanted to make clear that our struggles are not all the same – we all come from different places and though there is a stigma attached to being a brothel owner or manager, management doesn’t experience the same disadvantages workers do. She posed a question about the structure of brothel businesses: what would the brothel business model look like if it were worker owned? What would be different?
-GF answered that there aren’t any prohibitions against a worker-owned brothel but it hasn’t been attempted, but it could work. He then suggested that folks at the conference get 6 ladies with $150,000 each together and buy a brothel and he would help to get the proper licenses. He said that even if they women in question had criminal records, he could lead a group of ladies through the process.

*The Elisa tests for HIV antibodies and requires a three month waiting period after possible infection in order for the test to be effective. The adult film industry uses the more expensive PCR DNA test, which tests for the actual virus, which can be detected as soon as 11 days after exposure to the virus.


Know Your Rights

Originally uploaded by Melissa Gira.

Laura Agustin, Ph.D and pleasure activist Sadie Lune in our sex work and the law panel.

Nevada Brothel Panel

Originally uploaded by Melissa Gira.

Over lunch (not, as one of the panelists suggested, for lunch), the brothel panel.