Licensed To Strip: Do ID Laws Put Florida Adult Entertainers At Risk?

May 10, 2018

When Stormy Daniels rolled into West Palm Beach last month to perform at Ultra Gentlemen’s Club — just across the street from President Trump’s golf course — she brought a lot of things with her.

Two burly bodyguards. A rake to gather up tips from the stage. Plenty of intrigue.

Something Stormy did not bring: a license to strip from the Palm Beach County government.

Stormy Daniels performs at Ultra Gentlemen's Club in West Palm Beach on April 13, 2018.
Credit Ultra Gentlemen's Club (used with permission)

“Stormy Daniels would be exempt from the ordinance requirements because she's considered a featured performer,” said Rob Shelt, manager of Palm Beach County’s Division of Consumer Affairs.

A featured performer...meaning, she’s a celebrity briefly stopping by on a tour.

But by law, the other dancers at Ultra — and all the other strip clubs in Palm Beach County — do need a special license: an adult entertainment work identification card, or AEID, issued by the county’s Division of Consumer Affairs.

Commissioners voted in March to increase the fee for a AEID from $75 to $100. But for some workers, the price of the license isn’t as much of an issue as whether the permits themselves put adult entertainers at risk.

A public safety issue

Palm Beach County Division of Consumer Affairs lobby.
Credit Peter Haden / WLRN

Palm Beach County’s Division of Consumer Affairs does a brisk business. It’s housed on the second floor of an achromatic county building on Military Trail near Southern Blvd. People line up at a big window in the front with brightly colored notices taped all over it.

The agency issues licenses for a bunch of industries. Vehicle for hire. Water taxis. Home caregivers. And adult entertainers.

“We’re looking at this as not necessarily the registrar of adult entertainers, but more in the interest of public safety,” said Shelt.

Palm Beach County Division of Consumer Affairs Manager Rob Shelt says over the past two decades more than 10,000 people — mostly women — have been issued adult entertainer ID’s.
Credit Peter Haden / WLRN

Palm Beach County is the only local government in South Florida to license strippers, but it’s not unique in the state: Fort Myers and Pensacola also have special permitting requirements.

Palm Beach County started licensing adult entertainers in 1999 to stop the exploitation of minors.

“There were several minors found performing in clubs,” said Shelt.

Since then, screening for human trafficking has been added as part of the process.

Over the past two decades, more than 10,000 people — mostly women — have been issued adult entertainer ID’s in Palm Beach County. Including Jane.

Invasion of privacy?

Jane has been dancing at Ultra for two years. We sit and talk as she wraps up a Wednesday afternoon shift, and she’s thinking about staying to work a double. Flexible scheduling is one thing she loves about the job.

“And the same-day paycheck,” she says, grinning.

They're creating a registry of strippers.

“Jane” is her stage name. She has quick brown eyes and coffee hair that brushes her shoulders. There’s a chemistry a dancer feels with the perfect song, Jane says. It’s something they can dissolve into.

“For me, it’s Beyonce — ‘Dance For You,” she said. “I can just feel myself let my body go with the flow.”

Jane stands about six feet in black stilettos. Height is one of several pieces of information the county collects for adult entertainer work IDs.

"Many dancers are parents or have other jobs, and because of the stigma attached to stripping, there are lots of reasons they may want to keep that information private."
Credit Justin De La Ornellas / Flickr/CC

“You have to put your real name, your stage name, how old you are, your address, your phone number, height, weight, she said. “And they take your picture.”

But here’s where the issue gets touchy: Issuing a government ID creates a record. A public record.

“They’re creating a registry of strippers” said Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who frequently writes about sex work at the libertarian magazine Reason. “They’re opening up these dancers to having their information revealed to people. And that can be bad because people might be, just, sort of, maniacs.”

Stalkers. Zealots. Violent ex-partners. Spouses in a child custody battle. Potential employers.

Many dancers are parents or have other jobs, and because of the stigma attached to stripping, there are lots of reasons they may want to keep that information private, according to Nolan Brown.

In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled personal information in nude dancer work permits cannot be revealed under Arizona public records law because disclosing the information might endanger the workers — which would chill their constitutional rights to free expression as dancers.

“They are opening them up to more risk of harm,” she said. “Creating a state or a city registry of strippers is not going to help stop exploitation. It’s actually going to encourage the most vulnerable people to go more underground. And those are the populations that we should want to reach.”

Local government agencies are bound by Florida open records law to make the information public. It would require action by the state Legislature in Tallahassee to create an exemption for adult entertainers.

When strippers and clubs have sued to protect personal information, courts have ruled in their favor.

In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled personal information in nude dancer work permits cannot be revealed under Arizona public records law because disclosing the information might endanger the workers — which would chill their constitutional rights to free expression as dancers.

And a federal judge in Washington State ruled in 2015 that adult entertainers’ constitutional right to privacy trumped state disclosure laws.

“The [state public records law], by design, cannot violate the Constitution, and constitutional protections (such as freedom of expression) are necessarily incorporated as exemptions, just like any other express exemption enumerated in the [state public records law],” Judge Ronald B. Leighton wrote in his decision.

Public provision of Florida adult entertainers' personal information under the state's public records law has never been challenged.

This was all news to Jane.

“I did not know any of this,” she said.

How did it make her feel?

“Exposed,” Jane said. “I use a stage name for a reason.”