About two weeks ago, Susan, who owns a strip club in Portland, received a letter from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). According to the official letter, chock-full of bureaucratic speak, on August 1, the OLCC will begin enforcing a rule stating that strippers in Oregon will no longer be allowed to touch their own genitals during performances.

"Lewd activity [which is prohibited] is that which contains lustful, lascivious, or lecherous behavior including masturbation, sexual intercourse, and the rubbing, stimulating, touching of genitals," reads the letter. This new clause also prohibits the touching of other people's genitals, even through their clothes. The new rule also specifies that while male dancers are allowed to touch their nipples, females are not.

Susan--who wished to remain anonymous for fear the OLCC would fine her after reading this article--anticipates this change will have an extremely negative impact on strip clubs in Portland. The private lap dances, available at her club and most strip clubs, involve the stripper rubbing their genitals on those of the patron--with clothes on, of course. "I'm already lecturing my dancers," she explained.

The change in OLCC policy comes simultaneously with another controversial decision by the OLCC concerning strippers; on July 1, the OLCC held a public hearing in order to discuss rules that currently allow minor performers in strip clubs. Though minors--dancers and other performers between the ages of 18-21--are currently allowed to perform in venues serving alcohol, the OLCC is taking stern measures toward keeping underage performers segregated from the bar. Currently, minors are allowed to be in the bar, but not allowed to loiter on the floor of the bar. For years, this rule has been enforced haphazardly; the loose enforcement has allowed underage strippers to collect tips both on stage as well as the floor.

The OLCC's current proposal introduces a policy change. This change would require every venue to explain to the OLCC how they planned to address the issue of underage performers on a case-by-case basis. When planning on hosting an underage performer, each venue would be required to write and deliver a plan to the OLCC detailing how the underage performer would be handled within the club.

In addition to discouraging and segregating underage strippers, the rule will also affect musicians. Bruce Fife, president of the Portland Musicians' Union, points out that the new rule creates layers of unnecessary bureaucracy. Moreover, bands may consist of many members of different ages.

Last week, on July 1, Fife attended an open hearing at OLCC headquarters with a varied group of strip-club owners, members of the Christian right, representatives of the ACLU, and the Portland Police. Though the amendment to the definition of "lewd" is already in place and will begin on August 1, the OLCC has established a two-week waiting period in which they will consider comments and opinions from the public. Fife hopes they won't modify the rule. Instead, argues Fife, "I think the OLCC should simply leave the rule as is and begin enforcing it."

Though dancing and performing is unrelated to alcohol consumption, the OLCC has the power to regulate the environment in which alcohol is consumed. "When a club serves alcohol, it is under the OLCC's jurisdiction," explains Ken Palke, OLCC representative.

"What they're trying to do is keep minors away from where the drinking activity is heavy," Palke explained. "When this rule first started, minors did their performance on stage and didn't mingle so much as they do now. We're just trying to update the laws." Likewise, Palke said that the OLCC is attempting to change the definition of the word "lewd" in order to reflect the OLCC's original intentions. "They just wanted further definition of the rule that was already there," Palke explained. "They wanted to cover new practices, since this rule was written when nude dancing was much different."

To express your opinion on this matter, contact Katie Hilton, Rules Coordinator at the Hearings Division of the OLCC, 9079 SE McLoughlin Blvd, Portland OR, 97222, before July 16 at 5 pm.