Nevada Brothels Shut Down on Governor’s Order

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2020 Nevada Brothels closed covid

Governor Sisolak orders the closing of all non-essential businesses for 30 days starting 3/17/2020

As Nevada’s legal brothels remain closed, sex workers think bias is at play

When word got to Alice Little that brothels in Nevada would be closing for 30 days to comply with state orders and slow the spread of COVID-19, she brought the two houseplants in her room at the Bunny Ranch down to the front desk and asked the employee there to look after them while she was gone.

Eight months later, Little hasn’t seen her plants again.

Little is one of hundreds of legal sex workers in the state who lost their major source of income when brothels and other businesses shut down mid-March. While most other industries have been able to resume some level of operations, Gov. Steve Sisolak has indicated that the state’s brothels are “not on his radar” to reopen.

Services allowing physical contact around the state have been allowed to resume service, with tattoo shops, estheticians, and massage parlors open since May. Women who work in Nevada’s legal sex industry say they feel they’re being ignored not because of the risk their business poses but because of a bias against their industry.

“I think it’s discriminatory of the governor,” said Kiki Lover, a legal sex worker living in Reno. “He’s discriminating against sex workers.”

Prior to the shutdown, Lover was working five days a week at the Sagebrush Ranch in Lyon County. She’s based locally, so when news came on March 19 that the facility would be closing its doors immediately, she was able to pack up her room and head back home.

But for the women living in the brothel full time, things weren’t as simple.

“The first couple of weeks, they let the girls [stay] that were homeless or lived too far away,” she said. “Then everybody has to get out because at the end of the day … the brothel can’t just keep you there all the time without you working.”

What does social distancing look like in a brothel?

Then asked during an IndyFest panel about brothels reopening, Sisolak said he doesn’t know how people would social distance in brothel, and that it’s up to brothel owners “coming up with a plan.” But those in the industry say they have submitted plans to the state only to be met with silence.

Gilman first submitted reopening plans in May to the COVID-19 Task Force and the health department as well as to the Local Empowerment Advisory Panel which helped develop reopening guidelines for Nevada businesses. He also submitted a letter with the plan attached to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

A representative said that Michael Brown, the office’s executive director, received the letter and responded to Gilman, saying the reopening request, “could be considered at a future phase in the State’s re-opening plan.”

Gilman says he is uncertain where in the process the request is being rejected and is looking for clarity from the state.

“Where we’re being held is an unknown right now,” he said. “We’ve had no feedback of any kind that anyone rejects them … So why we’re not open is an absolute unknown puzzle, and we need to be told.”

The reopening plan includes procedures for screening employees, customers and contractors, limiting the number of customers and contractors in the building, sanitizing procedures and mask use requirements, and procedures for containment in the case of a positive test or failed screening.

Gilman’s proposal would allow the brothel to operate without physical contact, essentially allowing the non-sexual escort services currently allowed by the county to take place within the brothel facility.

“In this industry, much, if not the majority, of the courtesan-customer interaction does not involve physical contact even during normal business operations,” Gilman wrote in the plan.

The bar would also remain closed to customers under Gilman’s plan, but the kitchen would be able to operate to prepare food for guests, which would then be packaged and delivered to rented rooms.

The letter sent on behalf of the ranch to Brown also indicated that the brothel had been implementing safety protocols prior to its official shutdown.

“We took temperatures at the door with trained personnel, we took temperatures of every employee and every working lady prior to starting their workday every day,” Gilman said in the letter. “We use gloves, alcohol wipes and all forms of sanitary protocols. These are everyday standard procedures.”


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