OLYMPIA – Bars and strip clubs in Washington would be banned from holding dwarf-tossing contests under a bill introduced this week by a Spokane Valley legislator.
Wait a minute, you might say. Do bars or strip clubs in Washington do that? Do they really have little people dressed in special gear so they can compete to see how far they can be thrown?
The Déjà Vu Showgirls strip club in the Spokane Valley did in October, and a Seattle club sponsored a similar event in August. If Republican Sen. Mike Padden has his way, that will be the last time they or any similar Washington establishment tries what he calls “an offense to our sensibilities.”
He said he was contacted by a constituent, a second-year medical student who has dwarfism, about tossing and the potential harm it can cause.
“There’s nothing funny about dwarf tossing,” Padden said in announcing the bill. “It ridicules and demeans people with dwarfism and causes others to think of them as objects of public amusement.”
Under the bill, which has bipartisan sponsors, a bar or strip club that allows such a contest could lose its business license and face a $1,000 fine. The measure will get a hearing Jan. 31 in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, on which Padden serves as the ranking Republican.
The hearing will include remote testimony from the Spokane Valley, as well as representatives of the Little Persons of America, an organization that opposes dwarf tossing because of the risk of injury and because it could inspire attacks on other little people not involved in the show.
The risk of injury is what gives the state a reason to consider the ban, just as it bans other dangerous activity, Padden said.
Mighty Mike Murga, who was the person tossed at Déjà Vu in October, defended the activity, which he says he trains for like any athlete involved in a sport. He wears a harness and provides the 6-foot, 6-inch air mattress onto which he is thrown. The average toss sends him 5 or 6 feet, and the longest was about 11 1/2 feet. The worst injury he said he’s had since starting in 2012 is a bump on the head from sliding off the mattress.
“It’s a sport that started in England in the 1800s,” he said. “This is not for every little person. If you’re not cut out for it, don’t do it.”
People sign up to do the tossing and get three or four tries to see who can get the most distance, Murga said. It’s not random people picking him up, and he doesn’t drink when he’s performing. Afterward, he talks with the contestants and poses for pictures with them.
He contended other little people who object to his performances “are jealous I’m making a buck on this.” In states that have passed laws against dwarf tossing, he shifts the show to dwarf bowling, wearing the same harness and being pushed on a skateboard toward bowling pins.
The entertainment manager for Déjà Vu and Showgirls, the company that owns the Spokane Valley and Seattle clubs that booked Mighty Mike last year, refused to comment on Padden’s bill.
An employee at the Spokane Valley club said dwarf tossing only occurred there that one night in October. The club had a good crowd that night, but not a packed house, and it seemed more people came to see the female little person who was a dancer than Mighty Mike, the employee said.