Washington State

Washington State Lawmaker Wants to Ban Dwarf Tossing, Says It 'Ridicules and Demeans'

What's actually demeaning is thinking you know what's best for an entire group of people.


YouTube Screenshot via Screen Junkies

A Washington State legislator has proposed legislation that would ban dwarf tossing, arguing that it's "an offense to our sensibilities."

Dwarf tossing, for those who aren't familiar, involves a person with dwarfism allowing him or herself to be thrown onto a padded surface (like a mattress) or Velcro wall. The dwarfs are usually paid performers, and they generally wear protective gear. The practice has origins in mid-1980s Australia, according to The Washington Post. If you've got more questions, look no further than the opening scene of the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

But according to Washington State Sen. Mike Padden (R–4), it should be illegal. "There's nothing funny about dwarf-tossing," Padden said in a statement yesterday. "It ridicules and demeans people with dwarfism, and causes others to think of them as objects of public amusement. Even when participants are willing, it exposes them to the possibility of lifetime spinal injury. Dwarf-tossing is an offense to our sensibilities."

Padden's statement came a day after he co-sponsored SB 5486 along with Sens. Barbara Bailey (R–10) and Patty Kuderer (D–48). The bill says businesses licensed to sell liquor (i.e. bars) and "adult entertainment venues" (i.e. strip clubs) cannot "allow or permit any contest or promotion or other form of recreational activity involving exploitation that endangers the health, safety, and welfare of any person with dwarfism." Violations are punishable by a loss of liquor/business license and a fine of up to $1,000.

Padden says he became aware of this issue following a dwarf-tossing event last October at the Deja Vu Showgirls strip club in Spokane Valley. "Why would these people sign up to be, you know, be physically abused, maybe even hurt, thrown around?" Gonzaga University student Ben Foos, himself a dwarf, asked KREM at the time. "It's more frustrated with the viewers and the people who are coordinating it because they know what's happening and they are paying to see it happen," Foos added.

Ever since then, Foos and his mother Ginny, who's also a dwarf, have advocated to make dwarf tossing illegal. "I'm particularly concerned about that it is occurring among inebriated people that leave the bar and think they can do that to just anybody," Ginny Foos told KHQ. "I hope it's eradicated by the time I have grandchildren so I don't have to worry about it."

The state senate's Law and Justice Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on January 31. Representatives from the dwarf advocacy group Little People of America, which generally opposes dwarf tossing, will testify, according to The Spokesman-Review.

But not everyone is in agreement. Mighty Mike Murga, who was tossed at the Deja Vu Showgirls club in October, compared his preparation to that of any other athlete. "It's a sport that started in England in the 1800s," he tells The Spokesman-Review. "This is not for every little person. If you're not cut out for it, don't do it," he adds.

Washington isn't the only place where people are debating the merits of dwarf tossing. That's thanks to Neomi Rao, the administrator of the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, who President Trump has nominated to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

As the Post notes, Rao has faced criticism for her defense of Manuel Wackenheim, a dwarf living in a Paris suburb where dwarf tossing was prohibited. Wackenheim challenged the ban in the 1990s, claiming that he made a living by being tossed.

Writing in Volokh Conspiracy in 2011, Rao explained why the ban was misguided. "Respect for intrinsic human dignity, however, would favor individual choice," she wrote. "As with other similar theories, it is a short step from having substantive ideals of dignity to coercion of individuals in the name of these ideals."

It's a fair point, as the R Street Institute's Shoshana Weissmann explained in a November piece for Reason. "One can disagree with another's choices," Weissmann wrote, "but dignity is about the right to make those choices instead of having the government make them for us."

This applies to the law proposed in Washington State as well. Padden claims dwarf tossing "ridicules and demeans people with dwarfism." In reality, it's far more demeaning to think you know what's best for an entire group of people. No one is forcing dwarves to be tossed, but if that's an activity they want to voluntarily pursue, they should be able to.

And what about claims that dwarf tossing is physically dangerous? Well, no one has seriously proposed banning football or hockey. According to Murga, it's the same idea. "The impact [in dwarf tossing] is hitting the mattresses from the top," he told the Post. "In those sports, the impact is the other player pushing or hitting you, shoving you over, and you falling to the ground. So this is the same resistance."