During a recent trip to Miami, San Francisco residents Heather Cox and Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa visited Dean’s Gold strip club in North Miami Beach. On a Wednesday afternoon, they drove across the city through traffic to get there just in time for happy hour. But they were denied entry, they say, by a hostess and a manager. The reason: They're women and weren’t "accompanied by a man."
Cox and Otálvaro, both 39, were baffled. After all, Dean’s Gold isn’t a membership club. It’s open to the public and often uses female-on-female pictures in its advertising. Yet they say the employees at the door looked at the two women as if they were crazy for trying to get in. Cox and Otálvaro left feeling embarrassed and dejected.
A few weeks later, and still irked, they called to check again on the policy, which they say was confirmed: "Unescorted single ladies are not allowed into the club," they were told, unless they’re escorted by a "gentleman."
"The message that women must be accompanied by men is totally infantilizing," says Otálvaro, a Miami native and doctoral student in theater and performance studies at Stanford. "And it's a direct statement of exclusion targeted at bisexual women and lesbians. Entertainment venues should not be discriminating on the basis of race or gender or sexuality."
A manager at Dean's Gold declined to comment about the couple's allegations.
The couple isn't the first to allege that strip clubs aren't always welcoming to lesbian couples. Nationally, clubs have faced lawsuits over similar policies. In Los Angeles, a lesbian customer sued a club whose employees turned her away at the door because she wasn't accompanied by a man. That case was settled out of court in April.
Otálvaro says the policy brings up questions of how to treat transgender individuals who go to strip clubs.
"How are they defining a 'gentleman'?" she says. "What if I were there with a female-to-male transgender person? Then what?"
This past Tuesday,
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Matthew Dietz, the lawyer who filed the complaint, says the case is part of a larger issue of how civil rights still largely exclude gender.
"The sex industry caters to anachronistic attitudes and people will pay to be 'treated like a man' in the Hugh Heffner mold," he says. "However, exclusionary policies are only legal in truly private membership clubs that cater to fetishes."
Cox and Otálvaro say they hope to set a precedent and get a discriminatory policy changed.
"It's common knowledge that there are a lot of straight men out there who fantasize about lesbians and who go to these clubs to see women," Otálvaro says, "yet when actual lesbians try to go in, they're not gonna have it."