Under Oregon’s first amendment, stripping is a form of free speech. But conservative policymakers at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) shuddered at the thought of nineteen-year old girls baring themselves to drunken strangers, so they hatched a plan.
Under the pretense of protecting kids from exposure to alcohol, the OLCC tried to push through legislation that would make it illegal for underage performers to work in bars, affecting more than just exotic dancers. Underage artists of every ilk, and ostensibly their performance-mates, were also banned from establishments serving alcohol. The law allegedly went into affect January 1 of this year, but it had been the subject of an administrative oversight and had therefore failed to hit the books.
Nevertheless, everyone became convinced that the law had passed, and from January until March, many underage strippers, musicians, and possibly jugglers, acrobats and magicians were barred from any place of employment that did not allow minors on the premises.
Before this law was passed, underage performers were allowed to work in bars as long as they spent their offstage time in restricted, alcohol-free areas. This meant that when big bands from PSU and Mount Hood Community College performed at Billy Reed’s, many of the band members were corralled into a back room, complete with tables, chairs, and a cheese-and-meatball buffet. While a far cry from the glamour of drunken thirty-somethings that crowd bars like Billy Reed’s, this back room provided underage musicians a chance to work.
So many of Oregon’s finest musicians are under 21 years old that barring them from performance would do the local music scene a serious disservice.
Darrel Grant, professor of jazz studies at PSU, thought that this “restricted-area” system was working fine. He joined forces with the musician’s union, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the concerned parents of underage performers to try and get the law repealed.
The ACLU planned on filing a discrimination suit, but they didn’t have to. When the prohibitive law came up for review, it became apparent that an administrative oversight had prevented the law from ever hitting the books in the first place.
In the face of pressure from the community and in the absence of the law that they thought they had created, the OLCC decided the old system of sweeping performing minors under the rug and away from the alcohol had been working fine. Consequently the phantom-law has been banished from even the realm of erroneous belief. So go out and exercise your free speech, topless or not.