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Date: 9/2/2004  9:04am Name: Delta
Subject: Stripers, Escorts and Rep. Delegates
Copyright 2004 National Post
All Rights Reserved
National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) (Canada)
September 2, 2004 Thursday
National Edition
SECTION: WORLD; Pg. A11
LENGTH: 964 words
HEADLINE: Sex industry targets convention-goers: Cross-dressing school claims to have booked delegates
BYLINE: Siri Agrell, National Post
DATELINE: NEW YORK
BODY:

NEW YORK - In front of the Sheraton Manhattan Hotel at 52nd Street and 7th Avenue, a young woman greets the Alabama delegation to the Republican convention, handing them passes to a local bar.

"I've heard of this place," says one young man in a dark suit decorated with red, white and blue pins. "Are you working tonight?"

"Absolutely," she responds, flashing him a conspiratory smile.

But Dominique (she would not give her last name) only works until 6 p.m. and has never set foot in Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, the establishment she is promoting.

The 24-year-old student, who starts a graduate psychology program at New York University next week, is spending the last days of her summer vacation enticing Republican delegates into a strip club.

Each morning, she and almost 100 other girls hired by the club through a promotions agency are sent to delegate-friendly locations throughout Manhattan, decked out in tight Hustler T-shirts and armed with a bag of complimentary guest passes that feature a photograph of a stunning blond whose Republican-red outfit appears to be falling off.

Unlike restaurants, bars and department stores, the city's sex workers are not complaining about the visitors' stinginess.

Today, Dominique and her partner, Francine, will spend seven hours on the sidewalk outside the Sheraton, where delegates from Alaska, Iowa, South Dakota and the Virgin Islands are staying and countless convention functions are taking place.

The girls start their shift at 11 a.m. and work until the Hustler Club opens.

"Most of them take it," says Dominique as she holds out the club's discreet business cards to passers-by. "Some say no and then think about it and come back."

She approaches a group of delegates waiting to cross the street, but when she offers them a pass they decline, motioning toward a nearby TV crew. Without missing a beat, she turns around and slides her hand behind her back, blocking the camera's view of the transaction.

Walking away, she does a sly impression of the men, looking shocked and mouthing, "No, no, I don't want one," while sliding a card into her back pocket.

The girls say the male Republicans are overwhelmingly polite, but they try to avoid confronting conservative women.

Francine, who has added a cut-off jean skirt to her obligatory Hustler T-shirt, describes her visit to Madison Square Garden, where the convention is taking place, as "crazy."

"I had a woman following me around with a Bible all day telling me I worked for the devil," she explains.

But it is not just the Hustler girls who are leading the delegates into temptation.

On Craig's List, a popular on-line classified service, escort services have tweaked their ads to mark the Republican gathering.

"Release your tension from the convention," reads one. "White Gentlemen Special," claims another, picking up on the overwhelmingly Caucasian complexion of the delegations and the groups protesting them.

On Saturday, a group called F--k the Vote did a bar crawl of delegate hangouts, offering to match up Republicans with hot Democratic ladies in exchange for a vote against Mr. Bush.

"By any sex necessary we will defeat Bush in November," is the group's tag line.

Although New York newspapers have run testimonials from hookers and call girls claiming Republicans have done "some whack-a- s--t," during the convention, the atmosphere at Flash Dancers Gentleman's Club & Cabaret is calm.

The Broadway establishment, just north of Times Square and the Republican "safe zone" around the Garden, appears to advertise on every taxi cab in Manhattan, but only one delegate is in attendance at the afternoon show.

He emerges from the men's room, his Republican state pin (California!) visible on his lapel, and with a look of horror, declines to be interviewed.

"Ted, this lovely lady wants to know how many delegates we had in here today," the receptionist calls to the club's manager.

"Not many during the day," he replies. "They're all at the Tavern on the Green. Come back after nine."

For those who would rather be on stage than in the audience, there is Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls.

"Have you dreamed of clicking your high heels through the corridors of power? The Delegate's Delight is a new class designed for tourists on tight schedules or any visiting Republicans who long to be in ruffles," reads the "school" Web site.

"It also comes in handy if you've already been outed and need to find a discreet new look. Come share our platforms. Vote Yes to Cross-Dress for Success."

The 90-minute private classes cost US$395 and Miss Vera says she has bookings from several delegates.

"Cross-dressers are a community that transcend political affiliation," she said yesterday. "Why should they have to take a week off just because they're out of town?"

She claims to have dressed not only delegates but doctors, lawyers, bankers and one "famous nuclear physicist."

For Republicans who only packed suits, purple heart Band-Aids to mock John Kerry and elephant headgear, Miss Vera provides tutus, cocktail dresses, evening gowns and maid uniforms.

The school's most intriguing product is the complimentary Polaroid portrait provided at the end of the Delegate's Delightful session, pictures that would make Hustler's Larry Flynt jump for joy.

In front of the Sheraton, Dominique is still at work, offering passes to delegates from Illinois, handily identified by their name tags.

"Why are you giving them to us? Do we look like dirty old men?" asks one.

"Of course not," she replies with a wink.

Francine talks about the "real job interview" she has set up. She is applying to a marketing company but is not sure whether to mention her recent promotions experience.

"Maybe I will," she muses. "I guess I could say I helped co-ordinate the entertainment for the convention."

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