Breast Cancer Society of Canada to Exotic Dancers’ Group: Your breasts might scare away our donors

Thanks to my friend Tom J. for sending me this article from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The CBC reports that a group of sex workers, strippers to be specific, have a fundraising organization — Exotic Dancers for Cancer — that holds an annual fundraising event in memory of a friend and coworker who died of cancer. The money they raise is donated to cancer research, and to people fighting the disease.

So far it sounds good. But this year their offer of a donation was rejected by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BCSC). According to the CBC article, the BCSC’s “other major donors” balked at any connection with sex workers, and so the BCSC turned down the strippers’ donation. (Last year they raised $6,000, half of which went to the BCSC, so we’re not talking a tiny donation, and we’re not talking an unprecedented action.)

The Vancouver Courier reports the rejection this way:

In a letter to Ricketts [an organizer of EDC], the society’s executive director Rany Xanthopoulo, wrote: “Unfortunately we will have to decline your kind offer as we have certain major donors that are not in favour of this connection. This decision came as a result of donor disgruntlement and together with the board of directors we have decided not to accept any donations from what donors consider controversial sources.”

How terrible to give up serious money because of the stigma attached to the work done by the donors. And it’s legal work! These aren’t people donating money gained by criminal activity. They’re workers — in fact workers who lost a colleague to the very disease for which the fundraising is being done to combat — and yet because their jobs are stigmatized, their money is not accepted.

In this case, because we’re talking both about breast cancer research and about exotic dancing, the sex stigma seems particularly problematic. Sex workers are workers for whom bodies are incredibly important. Certainly breasts are among the physical features people come to strip clubs to see. And yet, the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, this year, won’t accept a donation from exotic dancers who are donating as exotic dancers. It’s like saying that breasts can be publicized for some reasons and not for others, or that they should be hidden except when they are sick and need attention.

I understand that a foundation like BCSC has as its mision to raise as much money as it can for its cause. It does that most effectively by enticing large donors, and if those donors are inhibited by their fear of being associated with exotic dancers, that might get in the way of BCSC’s ability to raise large donations. This is one reason stigma is so hard to combat.

But that raises another issue: Given how many large corporations sell products by eroticizing women’s bodies, isn’t it likely that some of the “major donors” are such corporations (or their highly placed executives)? It would be sadly ironic (and evidence of the problems of concentrated corporate power) if, in order to avoid upsetting a corporate donor that uses women’s bodies in its advertising, the BCSC had refused a donation from a group of women who used their bodies in the course of earning a living.

Exotic dancers are stereotyped in the dominant culture in ways that support their continued stigmatization. The stereotypes depict strippers as drug-addicted, dysfunctional, self-involved, shallow, unintelligent. Exotic Dancers for Cancer is a group of women whose actions undermine those stereotypes. But the stigma is so strong as to potentially render their actions invisible. This is another reason stigma is so hard to combat.

They are still looking for a cancer-related organization to accept their donation. I can’t find contact information for Exotic Dancers for Cancer, but Trina Ricketts, one of the organizers, is also a sex-worker advocate who helped found the Surrey Girlz drop in center and I suspect you could contact her there.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Breast Cancer Society of Canada to Exotic Dancers’ Group: Your breasts might scare away our donors

  1. How sad. It’s an insult to the strippers, who are only trying to raise money for a worthy cause in the name of a lost friend. It’s an insult to all breast cancer victims, who could benefit from the money to advance research in prevention and treatment.

    I wonder how many of the executives who objected to the source of the donation, are regular patrons of strip clubs?

  2. From my viewpoint everyone on this planet is “related” because we are all human and as such we are all sisters and brothers.

    The rejection of the funds raised by these women who held an exotic dance fundraiser for this worthy cause aimed at benefiting their sisters, and mothers, and grandmothers and friends and others with breast cancer is regrettable.

    The cash was raised through an annual fund-raiser staged in memory of a former dancer who lost her life to breast cancer. However public support has been tremendous here in B.C. so perhaps we’ll see a different situation next year. I certainly hope so.

  3. Timethief, I hope you’ll keep us posted about what kind of support the dancers are getting up there. This isn’t being covered widely in the US press — no surprise there — so I hope you’ll pass along any info you think would be useful or of interest.

    And tamino, thank you for reminding us all that cancer victims are also harmed here, as they could benefit from the additional funds toward research. That is a point I neglected, but certainly an important one!

  4. Unfortunately this is quite common. I used to work for a cancer hospital and the development department would reject donations like this – once EXACTLY like this and other donations from bar fund raisers where smoking would occur – not because they wanted to but because organizations like these truly do function from the dollars of a few controlling interests, and offending them would mean the end of the good work they are capable of doing. It’s really too bad, for everyone, all around.

  5. I remember the scene in Gone With the Wind in which the head of the local brothel (Belle) gives money to Melanie Wilkes, as a donation to the confederacy. Belle remarks that until now, her donation has been spurned as coming from a tainted source, but miss Melanie accepts it gratefully and graciously. This spurs Belle to remark, “I guess some folks just ain’t as good Christians as you are.”

    Even if you believe that stripping is a sinful profession (which I do not), how can you turn your back on an unselfish act of charity by a sinner? How can you hope to redeem sinners, when you treat their virtue with disdain?

    I guess some folks just ain’t as good Christians as they think they are.

  6. Margaret

    My mother died of breast cancer, three of her sister’s suffered with breast cancer and I fear for myself. Every penny counts, and I don’t care if these young ladies take their cloths off or not. Get over yourselves people.

  7. Change of Heart

    I have withdrawn my entry into the Weekend to End Breast Cancer. I am putting my efforts into the 12 hour Relay of Hope. Last year I raised $6400. for the BCSC, this year I have a feeling they will have lost a great deal more than just my respect and support. I do not support stupidity. I wish I knew which corporation jerk that decided his / her personal opinion and feelings mattered so much. I’d let them know they didn’t. I’ll find other ways to help support cancer victims. The BCSC is just a political puppet.