Oregon strippers of color are now eligible for COVID-19 relief funds

Strippers of color in Oregon have become eligible to receive taxpayer-funded COVID-19 financial relief, thanks to the work of an advocacy group for sex workers.

Cat Hollis, founder of PDX Stripper Strike and Haymarket Pole Collective, which is distributing $600,000 in grant money, made the announcement this week, noting that anyone “who has made income from using their or other people’s sexuality to financially assist themselves” can apply for funds, The Oregonian reported.

Hollis said that priority relief will be given to black, transgender, and Indigenous applicants, as well as people with minor dependents living with them and those who are currently homeless.

The funds come from $45 million in health equity grants that are being administered by the Oregon Health Authority to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 in tribal communities and those of color which have allegedly been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The grant will enable the Haymarket Pole Collective to distribute financial help to 75 people. They could receive up to $1600 to assist with rent payments, $500 in utility assistance, and $150 to go for Internet services, The Oregonian reported.

In addition, 200 more applicants can receive a wellness tote that includes a mail-in COVID-19 test and a sexually transmitted infection test, as well as reusable masks, sanitizers, personal hygiene products, grocery and gasoline gift cards, blood oximeters and thermometers.

The organization will accept applications through Dec. 1; funds are to be distributed by Dec. 30. As of this writing, at least 93 people have applied for grants.

Strip club dancers founded PDX Stripper Strike earlier this year so they could advocate equality for dancers of color. That movement eventually evolved into Haymarket Pole Collective.

“PDX Stripper Strike is the verb,” Hollis said, according to The Oregonian. “Haymarket Pole Collective formed out of PDX Stripper Strike realizing that we needed something that would be more long-term. Our strategy is to empower workers in our industry to have advocacy and agency and safety in their workspaces.”

Hollis added that the goals of the collective include educational services, childcare, and support groups for people in the adult entertainment industry.

The Oregonian noted that most strip club dancers are not employees, per se, they are contractors and as such are not eligible for unemployment benefits in the traditional sense.

What’s more, “strip clubs have taken an economic hit during the pandemic,” Hollis said, adding that “there is increased competition for digital sex workers as people who have not previously worked in the adult entertainment industry enter it online.”

“Not only has the industry been flooded with people looking for easy income, it had already shrunk in the number of spaces people can safely practice their work in,” Hollis said. “I think (sex workers) are in a hard spot, not for lack of trying.”

The YWCA of Greater Portland, which also provides services related to domestic violence, social justice, and women and children, will serve as the fiscal agent for the distribution of the Haymarket Pole Collective’s relief, The Oregonian reported.

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Jon Dougherty

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