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Trump Admin Goes Full Puritan, Excludes Sex-Related Business from COVID-19 Financial Aid

One thing I didn’t see coming in our post-COVID-19 world was heightened slut-shaming. And yet, the federal government appears to be pretty obsessed with who’s getting turned on and how. What some have dubbed “Whorephobia” has served to exclude all business related to sex from legally being eligible for federal subsidies.

As part of the recently passed CARES Act, which provides economic stimulus to help individuals and business cope with the coronavirus crisis, the federal Small Business Association (SBA) is distributing federal loan funds to “qualified entities.” To apply for the emergency funding, small businesses must complete an online application.

According to the SBA website:

SBA is collecting the requested information in order to make a loan under SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program to the qualified entities listed in this application that are impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The information will be used in determining whether the applicant is eligible for an economic injury loan.

So, let’s see who’s eligible and who’s not, shall we?

Applicants must certify that they operate a business – either one with or without employees – or that they are independent contractors or own a non-profit organization. The businesses must be “small” businesses, meaning that they have less than 500 employees. Government entities and lobbyists are specifically excluded, as are “agricultural enterprises” (farms will receive subsidies through a different portion of the CARES Act). All that certainly makes sense.

Then there’s the naughty list.

Anyone who is delinquent on child support payments or who is “engaged in any illegal activity” shouldn’t bother applying. I get that. The federal government shouldn’t be giving free money to criminals or deadbeats. Sure.

Also ineligible are any applicants who “derive more than one-third of gross annual revenue from legal gambling activities.” I mean that seems a little weird, especially in a world in which our president is a bankrupted casino-owner. But I guess I can see where the federal government might not want to bail out gambling operations.

Here, though, is the exclusion that would be laughable if it weren’t so infuriating:

Applicant does not present live performances of a prurient sexual nature or derive directly or indirectly more than de minimis gross revenue through the sale of products or services, or the presentation of any depictions or displays, of a prurient sexual nature.

Basically, if your business is sex, you’re screwed.

We’re not just talking about prostitution here (the federal government has generally made prostitution illegal in those areas of life it can regulate: human trafficking, near military bases, crossing state lines, but it largely remains a function of state law). This is any live performances “of a prurient sexual nature,” any sales of sexual products, services, depictions, or displays.

Look, many of us are stuck in the house, so let’s be brutally honest. There are a lot of businesses that fall into the “prurient sexual nature” category. Everything from strip clubs to porn companies to sex toy shops. And who is the arbiter of where that line ends? Are lingerie stores entitled to assistance? How about boudoir photographers and burlesque shows? What about the streaming TV dramas and comedies which all-too-frequently contain nudity and/or sex scenes?

Many people derive their livings from businesses that are sexual in nature. Strip clubs have bartenders and cleaning crews. Pornography producers employ camera operators and film editors. “Adult” bookstores make payments to landlords for the strip-mall space they share with delis and pizzerias. While we certainly should be on-guard to recognize sexual exploitation, there are plenty of sex-based businesses that are an important – if unremarkable – part of the American economy. Let’s also remember that a decent amount of sexual speech is constitutionally protected from the government’s prying eyes under the First Amendment.

The minute stay-at-home orders were announced, the good-natured memes flew. There’d be lots of sex among those stuck in their houses; one day, we’d even have a new generation of “coronnials.” It was funny because it was true. Some adult-entertainment companies even saw an immediate surge in business. In a press release, porn website IMLive dot com said, “With millions of people now working from home because of the Coronavirus, porn websites are experiencing a significant uptick in traffic. In fact, as of this week, ImLive dot com has noted a 15% traffic increase.” The federal government, though, is here to shake a prudish finger in the face of Americans who dare to be dirty. And few things could be more disgusting than the hypocrisy this particular administration’s feigned Puritanism.

As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.”

[Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos