Padden bill bans dwarf-tossing contests, aims to end exploitation of ‘little people’

OLYMPIA – A bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, would end dwarf-tossing contests at bars and strip clubs across the state – and end a most-unsporting activity that demeans and exploits those of small stature.

Senate Bill 5486 would ban dwarf-tossing contests and promotions as well as any other “recreational activity involving exploitation that endangers the health, safety and welfare of any person with dwarfism.” The ban applies to establishments that serve liquor and adult-entertainment venues. A hearing on the bill is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 31 before the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Padden, ranking Republican member on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he became interested when a constituent contacted him about a dwarf-tossing contest last October at a strip club in the city of Spokane Valley. The constituent, a medical student with dwarfism, raised concern about potential harm to participants.

“There’s nothing funny about dwarf-tossing,” Padden said. “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.”

Dwarf-tossing originated in Australia as a pub promotion and spread to America in the late 1980s. People with dwarfism, wearing special padded clothing or Velcro costumes, are thrown onto mattresses or at Velcro-covered targets. Contestants compete to throw the dwarf the farthest. In 1989, Florida enacted a ban on dwarf-tossing at establishments where liquor is served, and New York followed with a similar ban in 1990.

Advocates for “little people” note that persons with dwarfism are particularly susceptible to spine and neck injuries. While generally opposed to disparate treatment for their community, they say the concern is outweighed by the possibility of injury, the demeaning nature of the activity, and the chance that it might inspire attacks on others. In 2012, a man celebrating his birthday at a pub in England was severely injured when a pubgoer picked him up and threw him – an incident likely inspired by news coverage of dwarf-tossing contests.

Padden’s legislation applies to contests and promotions involving adults shorter than four-feet-ten.