Bill would end Florida ban on ‘dwarf tossing’

Oct 4, 2011

The following article was published in the Florida Current on October 4,2011:

Bill would end Florida ban on “dwarf tossing”

By Bruce Ritchie

When wet T-shirt contests and mechanical bulls weren’t enough to attract crowds to bars in the 1980s, some bar owners began the spectacle of “dwarf-tossing” — launching little people for the amusement of an audience.

Groups representing dwarfs or little people called the activity dehumanizing and reminiscent of circus sideshow days.

Controversy ensued in the late 1980s and an embarrassing national media spotlight focused yet again on Florida. The Legislature responded in 1989 by adopting a new state law that that essentially banned the practice in bars for safety reasons.

On Monday, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, filed HB 4063 to repeal the law. He says he doesn’t condone the dwarf tossing but he thinks the prohibition takes away freedoms and is against the American way.

“To me it’s an archaic kind of Big Brother law that says, ‘We don’t like that activity,’ ” Workman said. “Well, there is nothing immoral or illegal about that activity. All we really did by passing that law was take away some employment from some little people.”

A representative of the Little People of America said the group hasn’t had time to study the bill but he raised concerns about the safety of people with dwarfism being thrown.

HB 4063 would repeal Florida Statute 561.665, which prohibits anyone who sells alcohol on premises from permitting any recreational activity “involving exploitation endangering the health, safety, and welfare of any person with dwarfism.”

The state can fine up to $1,000 or suspend the license to sell alcohol for anyone who violates the law.

The person with dwarfism is equipped with a harness around his torso and is spun around and eventually thrown by another person onto mattresses placed on the ground. The person who throws the little person for the greatest distance wins the contest, according a 2001 statement by Little People of America.

The activity is exceedingly dangerous, according to the group. Because of orthopedic and neurological complications associated with most forms of dwarfism, the person being tossed is at high risk of back and neck injury.

“Aside from the physical dangers, dwarf-tossing is a demoralizing activity that treats the person with dwarfism as a mere object,” a group representative said in 2001.

Asked about the demeaning nature of the activity, Workman said Tuesday, “What about the one employed by it?”

“That person didn’t feel it belittled their stature,” he said. “The reality is what is good for one person may not be good for another.”

Gary Arnold, president of Little People of America, said Tuesday he didn’t know whether the group would have time to research and comment on HB 4063.

“In general, if HB 4063 does threaten to undo the protection afforded people of short stature against dwarf tossing, we are concerned, and we would be against the legislation,” Arnold said. “The ban on dwarf tossing protects the entire dwarf community.”

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