A bill introduced in West Virginia this week aims to ban adult entertainment businesses from the state.
Six Republican co-authors—delegates Geno Chiarelli, Henry Dillon, Riley Keaton, Jonathan Pinson, Dean Jeffries, and Walter Hall—introduced House Bill 2919 on Monday, which aims create the Sexually Oriented Businesses Regulation Act, which would outlaw “sexually oriented business,” including adult arcades, adult bookstores, adult video stores, cabarets, adult movie theaters, nude model studios, and “sexual encounter centers.”
If it became law, violation of these provisions would be a misdemeanor.
The language of the bill is both borderline graphic and incredibly vague: it defines the body parts that stores are prohibited from showing in books, live performances, and films with meticulous specificity, including “human male genitals in a discernibly turgid state” even if covered. It measures nudity as “the appearance of a human bare buttock, anus, anal cleft or cleavage, pubic area, male genitals, female genitals or vulva” and seminudity as “the appearance of the female breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola at its highest point. Sex acts are defined as “fondling or erotic touching” and “normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including intercourse, oral copulation or sodomy.”
But specific details on which businesses will actually be affected if this bill were to pass into law are left mostly undefined. It would ban “sexual encounter centers,” which its authors define as businesses that offer “wrestling or tumbling between persons of the opposite sex” or any kind of physical contact while semi-nude. Adult bookstores and video stores is fairly self-explanatory, but the bill also states that shops that sell “instruments, devices or paraphernalia” that are designed for sex acts are on the chopping block, as well as any business that happens to sell books or videos that feature fondling, sex acts, and masturbation. Under those terms, a bookstore that sells an age-appropriate book for children about exploring their bodies would be considered an adult business.
Under the painstaking definitions of nudity or semi-nudity above, this could impact a huge swath of businesses; the bill doesn’t specifically mention strip clubs, gay bars, or even art classes that use nude models to teach students, but these would be implicated under the conditions laid out in the bill’s text.
Mike Stabile, Director of Public Affairs at the Free Speech Coalition, noted on Twitter that the terms of this bill could effectively make gay bars and nude modeling at art schools illegal:
Ann Ali, deputy chief of staff and communications director for the West Virginia House of Delegates, told Motherboard that Chiarelli would not be issuing a statement about the bill at this time. “The regular legislative session ends at midnight March 11 and members have three more weeks during which they can introduce bills,” Ali said. “This is one of 1,006 bills that have been introduced in the House of Delegates as of today, and even though each bill matters greatly to someone, not every bill completes the legislative process to become law.”
Pinson also declined to comment. The other co-authors, Dillon, Keaton, Jeffries, and Hall did not respond to a request for comment.
Although Chiarelli, the bill’s lead sponsor, appears to not even take his own legislation seriously, it follows a growing trend of vague and harmful legislation aimed at the adult industry and the queer community more generally. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018 is similarly over-broad and vague, yet when it was passed into law, it caused incalculable harm to sex workers’ lives. Introduced in 2020, the EARN IT Act similarly attempted to address child sexual exploitation material online through ill-defined “practices.” Bills currently introduced in multiple states attempt to define drag performances as “adult-oriented businesses” and not only infringe on people’s rights but instigate more violence against queer communities. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that West Virginia can ban trans kids from sports.