Dancer, Strip Clubs Sue Florida Over Under-21 Age Ban

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Strip clubs, an adult retailer, and a 19-year-old dancer sued the state of Florida and far-right Attorney General Ashley Moody Monday in a federal district court as a part of a bid to block House Bill (HB) 7063, which prohibits individuals aged under 21 from working at such establishments. Critics of the law say it violates the First Amendment.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The dancer, a woman named Serenity Michelle Bushey, alleges she lost her job due to the new law that far-right Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month. DeSantis and proponents for the laws, almost exclusively socially conservative Republican lawmakers, say HB 7063 is meant to counter human trafficking. However, critics maintain that the law is an overreach given that it charges a felony for any individual who hires someone 18 to 20 years old. But what makes matters worse is that the law eliminates the criminal defense of owners and managers of these venues arguing they were fooled by a fake government identification card.

"The ban on performers under the age of twenty-one is not narrowly tailored and does not advance the asserted government interest commensurate with the burden on free speech," the plaintiffs write in the lawsuit. Bushey, as already noted, is out of work due to the signing of House Bill 7063, along with many other dancers at her former workplace, argues the lawsuit. The plaintiffs in the case argue, "The human body is a thing of beauty which, when combined with music and rhythmic motion in the form of dance, conveys an important message of eroticism." The parent company for the Gainesville-based Café Risque, Bushey's former employer, and the parent company of the Jacksonville-based club Sinsations are also plaintiffs.

Exotic Fantasies, a retailer in Jacksonville, is also named as a plaintiff in the case. According to local news coverage of the lawsuit by the Tallahassee Democrat, First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule characterizes Exotic Fantasies' stake in the case as simply maintaining the ability to sell its "modest" selection of lingerie, adult movies and novelty products.

"Café Risque, Sinsations, and Exotic Fantasies have the right to select the adult staff and employees of their choosing to assist in the dissemination of their speech, without regard to age," reads the complaint before the federal district court. Gary Edinger, a legendary First Amendment attorney based in Gainesville, is currently representing the plaintiffs in the case.

Edinger previously represented Sinsations and several other adult entertainment venues in a case against the city of Jacksonville, Fla. for prohibiting exotic dancers under 21 years of age.