GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Is it exploitation or entertainment? An unusual act slated for a new venue in downtown Grand Rapids is drawing criticism.
Tickets are being sold for “Extreme Midget Wrestling” Wednesday night at 20 Monroe Live.
The West Michigan chapter of Little People of America says it crosses the line and doesn’t belong in Grand Rapids, arguing it’s demeaning toward a group that already faces discrimination. The group says people don’t realize it can open the door to bigotry.
“Little people such as us walking down the street have been picked up and thrown, which caused significant physical harm,” said Ron Roskamp, the treasurer for the local chapter of LPA.
He said the event is something of a spectacle with potentially violent consequences.
“I wrote the organizers to ask them to not put on this event because of the impact that it has on objectifying people of short stature and the ultimate repercussions from that after an event of this nature with public aggressiveness and teasing and ridicule that goes on against us in our daily lives,” Roskamp said.
Roskamp and his wife, both of whom have dwarfism, say they have faced bullying throughout their lives.
But dwarfism also brings daily challenges many don’t think of — like negotiating the height of counters and cupboards in your kitchen. Roskamp and his wife had their home in Ada built specifically to their needs.
“All of our drawers and things are all on casters. Because of our short arms, we can’t reach to the back,” Roskamp explained.
Roskamp said the Americans with Disabilities Act has done a lot to make sure facilities are modified to be friendly to people with dwarfism, but that it hasn’t done much for raising awareness and changing mindsets.
He said it’s more than simply holding the wrestling event that perpetuates the problem. The term ‘midget,’ he said, is derogatory.
“To us, that connotes the 20s and 30s and 40s where people were sideshow exhibits at burlesque or vaudeville, county fairs and it’s a name that we’ve really been working hard to get out of the lexicon,” Roskamp said.
The other side of the argument is that the wrestlers have chosen to participate. Like other athletes, they’re strong and trained. 24 Hour News 8 asked Roskamp how that can be exploitation.
“I think that if they realized what impact it could have on them down the road — because most of us have orthopedic issues, spinal issues, things like that — they probably wouldn’t make this decision,” Roskamp said. “I don’t know that I can speak from their mindset, but I suspect that they probably don’t know the impact that it has on the rest of us. I think they’re probably living separate from that perception at this stage of their lives.”
In response to those concerns, 20 Monroe Live’s marketing manager Amber Stokosa issued this statement Tuesday:
“20 Monroe Live presents a wide variety of music, comedy, and other entertainment for a demographic that makes up a diverse community. The views expressed by all of our acts are not necessarily shared by the venue or staff. “
Owner Greg Gilmore said he can’t comment because he doesn’t control booking for the venue.