Attorney for civil liberties group says contract violates performers’ rights

Richmond, VA -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today faxed a letter to William & Mary President Gene Nichol urging him to allow a performance of the Sex Workers’ Art Show to take place tonight as scheduled. The letter also informs him that a special contract the college is requiring sponsoring students and performers to sign is unconstitutional.
William & Mary officials have resisted the student-sponsored event, which addresses sex, social class, and work in a variety-show format, since last fall when students first sought a venue and monetary support. The show has been performed without incident for several years in college venues across the country. It was performed last night at Duke University and, among more than 20 other venues this month, will be performed at Harvard, University of Michigan, and the University of Indiana.
Today’s letter, sent by ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg, is the second sent by the ACLU of Virginia. In the first, emailed last week to Mark Constantine, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis argued that the Sex Workers’ Art Show has the same right to perform on campus as any other student-sponsored event, and that it should not be subject to special restrictions not required of other shows.
Willis wrote: “While certainly risqué and edgy, neither of which implicate obscenity laws, the Sex Workers’ Art Show is an event rich in images and messages about society, sex and work. In short, it is precisely the kind of expression the First Amendment is intended to protect.”
School officials have asked the sponsoring-student organizations and the performers to sign an addendum to the standard contract in which the students must waive the Virginia law that exempts programs at state-funded schools from the obscenity law, prohibit recordings of the event, and allow the university to withhold payment if in its “sole discretion” Virginia’s obscenity law has been violated.
The sponsoring students and representatives of the Sex Workers’ Art Show sought to amend the addendum to give a court the authority to decide if obscenity laws have been violated and to allow performers to record the show as a defense against obscenity charges. The school refused.
A copy of the letters from Willis and Glenberg can be found at the following link: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20080204-WM-Sex-Workers-Show.pdf.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804/644-8022

Stay informed

ACLU of Virginia is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National