Narrated by Reagan
“You’re here to make money, not friends.” That’s what you often hear in a strip club dressing room. Strippers are told to look out for ourselves, not each other. That to succeed in this industry, we shouldn’t worry about the dancer next to us; we should compete with one another, make our money, and move on. We are told that harassment and assault are part of the job. We’re told, “If you don’t like it, maybe you’re not cut out for this work.”
As dancers, we are commonly treated like we are disposable in the clubs where we work. If we lose favor with the boss, we’re replaced. In order to protect our jobs, we often internalize the narrative that we don’t deserve community, safety, or respect at work.
But at Star Garden, we re-wrote this script. We decided to form a union — the only active strippers union in the United States.
This is how we did it.
Star Garden is a place where dancers could bring their own creativity and individuality to the stage every night. Sometimes our stage shows were more like performance art. It was different, it was expressive, and it was fun. We loved Star Garden. But Star Garden didn’t love us back.
Management stood by as we were slapped, pinched, grabbed, held down, picked up off the floor, dropped, groped, and filmed without our consent by customers. We were told to “smile and walk away.” We were told not to go to security for assistance. When we spoke out about our safety concerns, the owners retaliated against us, and two of us were fired.
That’s when everything changed. We could have kept our mouths shut, or moved on to another club. Instead, we stood our ground, together. We knew that the customers were coming to the club because of us. We knew that the club was only making money because of us. And we knew that if we collectively organized, we had power over the owners.
So we delivered a petition to management asking for safety in the workplace. We are also asking for an end to racist and discriminatory hiring and firing practices. The petition led to a lock-out, which led to a strike and a picket.
On the picket line we learned that the skills that make us good strippers also made us good organizers. We were experts at convincing customers not to cross the picket line into the club. We made our movement a party that people wanted to be a part of and made fighting the boss look sexy and fun. Along the way, we learned that we are unstoppable when we stand together.
We also learned that our struggles are not as unique as they might seem at first glance. We have joined a growing movement from Starbucks to Amazon of young, diverse, queer organizers across the country fighting for dignity and safety at work.
Unionizing is an act of faith. You have to believe your workplace can actually change. Star Garden isn’t the typical strip club. But here’s the plot twist: it could be.
We are the only union strip club in the country. Who’s next?
Videography by Karam Singh and Scotty Wagner