DSW Rallies With Activists To Pass the #WalkingWhileTrans Repeal

March 3, 2020

On International Sex Worker Rights Day, the Walking While Trans Coalition gathered at the Million Dollar Staircase in the Albany Statehouse to speak out about trans rights in New York State. DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly joined activists representing the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) and the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute.

The coalition has been advocating tirelessly for the repeal of section 240.37 of New York’s state law. The statute criminalizes loitering for the purpose of prostitution, and its overbroad and vague language has led to discriminatory enforcement. Since §240.37 was enacted in 1976, its implementation has overwhelmingly relied upon profiling and false arrests of cisgender and transgender women of color, as well as feminine gender non-conforming people of color.

The Walking While Trans Ban Coalition — which is composed of sex workers, human rights organizations, and advocates in New York state and beyond — is fighting this unconstitutional law. Senate Bill 2253 and Assembly Bill 654, to repeal § 240.37, are being sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), respectively.

In a legislative memo endorsing the repeal, the New York Civil Liberties Union describes how the statutes make it a violation for anyone to publicly and repeatedly “ ‘beckon’ to, stop, or attempt to stop passers-by; to try to engage them in conversation; or to signal to motor vehicles ‘for the purpose of’ ” engaging in, patronizing, or promoting prostitution. The discriminatory application of this law is based on perceptions of what a prostitute ‘looks like,’ according to stereotypes of dress, perceived gender identity, sexuality, race, and place of activity. This classification unconstitutionally codifies into law racist, sexist, and socio-economically coded ideas of criminality.

DSW was honored to participate in this historic event. There is no better way to honor International Sex Worker Rights Day than to fight for the human rights of our most vulnerable community members. When merely “looking like a sex worker” means you can be arrested arbitrarily, no one is free.

State Senator Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) speaks at the March 3 press conference, endorsing the repeal of Walking While Trans. (Photo: Vince Marrone, 2020)

Attorney and activist Jared Trujillo of the Walking While Trans Coalition delivers a statement. (Photo: Vince Marrone, 2020)

TS Candii and fellow #WalkingWhileTrans activists read aloud personal stories of people who have been harmed by §240.37. (Photo: Vince Marrone, 2020)

Honoring Our Movement: International Sex Worker Rights Day

March 3, 2020

Sex workers and allied communities celebrated International Sex Worker Rights Day, a holiday that commemorates the tireless efforts of harm-reduction advocates around the world. The holiday began in India in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers from around the world gathered there for a festival organized by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya. The Durbar is a Kolkata-based group that translates to “The Unstoppable Women’s Synthesis Committee.”

Every year on March 3, sex workers and activists organize protests, gatherings, art shows, and lectures across the globe to raise awareness about the human rights abuses sex workers face. Events shine a light on the resilience of the sex work community, the strides activists have made, and the battles to come.

This year, DSW collaborated with several organizations to honor the work of NYC-based groups. J. Leigh Brantly, of DSW and the New York State Gender Diversity Coalition, joined the #WalkingWhileTrans Coalition in Albany to advocate for S2253/A654. This bill, endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), would repeal the criminalization of loitering for the purpose of prostitution.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey was a featured guest on the Twitter chat #SexTalkTuesday discussing #sexworkerrights on International Sex Workers Rights Day. The conversation is a weekly inclusive dialogue around sex and sex-positive topics hosted by Sssh for Women (@ssshforwomen).

DSW also attended “Our Right to Thrive,” a pop-up art show and silent auction featuring the artwork of sex workers from around the world. The event benefited the outreach initiatives of Sex Worker’s Outreach Project Brooklyn (SWOP Brooklyn) and Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective’s crisis fund for sex workers. The show was a fantastic way to conclude the commemoration of sex worker rights and to celebrate such a resilient community.

DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly is pictured with a story from the Walking While Trans Coalition at the March 3 press conference. (Photo: DSW, 2020)

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo, Ryan Wall of Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Unit, Jillian Modzeleski of Brooklyn Defender Services, and DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey are pictured at “Our Right to Thrive.” (Photo: DSW, 2020)

NY Gender Diversity Coalition Introduces Legislative Platform

January 8, 2020

The New York State Gender Diversity Coalition, led by the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) including 35+ NY nonprofit organizations, met with NY state legislators in Albany concerning the coalition’s 2020 legislative platform. NYTAG is a trans-led organization that advocates tirelessly for more inclusive gender-based policies, benefitting transgender and gender non-conforming/non-binary (TGNCNB) individuals. This is accomplished by reaching out to community leaders, educating health practitioners, and influencing policymakers.

DSW is honored to be a part of this critical coalition. Issues affecting the TGNC community are deeply intertwined with sex workers’ rights. Because of discrimination and marginalization in most employment sectors, many TGNC individuals—particularly transgender women of color—have or will engage with sex work as one of the only viable options for supporting themselves

Of the six bills in NY state, a repeal of the loitering bill (A654/S2253) will be introduced by Brad Hoylman (D-WF) in the Senate and Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) on the Assembly side. This legislation would amend a statute that currently criminalizes loitering for the purpose of prostitution, a profiling bill that disproportionately affects trans women of color.

Advocates refer to the current law as “walking while trans,” signifying the propensity of police to target trans women, especially those of color, for standing on sidewalks, wearing certain clothing, or motioning at passing cars. “Walking while trans” is one of the most harmful laws used to systematically marginalize sex workers and transgender individuals. Even though they rarely result in convictions, arrests are traumatic stigmatizing events, and are perceived to be a type of “stop and frisk” for transgender people and women of color.

A 2019 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 58% of transgender individuals who interacted with police officers in the last year experienced harassment, abuse, or other mistreatment. 

The survey also found that, nationally, 33% of police interactions with transgender women of color result in arrests on prostitution charges.

All of the proposed bills seek to protect the rights and safety of NY’s most vulnerable communities, eliminate discrimination, and reduce state-sponsored violence. Because of demographic overlap and criminalization, many of the injustices addressed by these bills have an enormous impact on the rights of trans sex workers—especially the loitering bill. You can read the coalition’s one-pager, posted on NYTAG’s website.

We implore NY’s state legislators to pass these bills, which would provide a safer and more just society in NY state. If you’re a NY resident, please email or call your two state legislators to express your support of the pending bills via DSW’s Take Action page.

DSW and NYTAG pictured in Albany at the beginning of NY state’s 2020 legislative session. From left to right: J. Leigh Brantly of DSW and NYTAG, Amanda Babine of NYTAG, Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker of NYTAG, and (front) Melissa Broudo of DSW and the SOAR Institute.

The Albany Statehouse (Photo: NYTAG)

DSW Staffers Participate in LGBTQI and Sex Worker Rights Panel

December 18, 2019

DSW’s Melissa Broudo and J. Leigh Brantly participated in the NY Transgender Advocacy Group’s LGBTQI Winter Cocktail Policy Series. Melissa and J spoke on a panel entitled “Reclaiming Our Bodies,” the first of three community-building, focused policy discussions. The event brought together LGBTQI community members and allies to learn about the intersection between sex workers’ rights and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, intersex, transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people, communities of color, and other vulnerable individuals.

Not only do members of these communities overlap, but they face common vulnerabilities: intense criminalization, state-sponsored violence, increased risk of exposure to STIs, and barriers to healthcare. An enthusiastic and interactive discussion highlighted the history of overlap and alliances between LGBTQ+ and sex worker activism, how these movements have diverged, and how our communities can support and advocate for one another.

Sex workers have been involved in the gay rights movement since its origin. In 1970, transgender sex workers Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, leaders of the 1969 Stonewall riots, founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). For many LGBT individuals, participation in street economies can be critical to survival. This is particularly true for LGBT youth and transgender women of color, who face family rejection and vastly disproportionate rates of violence, homelessness, and discrimination in employment, housing, and education. 

LGBTQ organizations like LAMBDA Legal, The Transgender Law Center, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAAD), and others have endorsed full decriminalization, as have human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and UNAIDS. These organizations understand that decriminalizing sex work is the best way to protect against exploitation, including human trafficking.

Melissa and J bring 25+ years of combined experience in activism and advocacy. Their diverse areas of expertise—Melissa as a lawyer and public-health expert, and J. Leigh as a genderqueer, multiracial researcher, speaker, and former sex worker—allowed for a well-rounded and holistic discussion.

DSW is grateful to the Gender Diversity Coalition and NYTAG community members who participated in the panel or otherwise attended. Thoughtful and productive discussions like these are essential to the work that we do. The importance of the LGBTQ+ community’s support cannot be overstated.

DSW’s Melissa Broudo (right) describes the significant historical overlap between the sex worker rights movement and LGBTQ/TGNC activism.

Panel participants pose for a selfie following the discussion.

DSW Honors International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers

December 17, 2019

DSW joined sex-worker-rights activists around the world in honoring the International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, which takes place annually on December 17. This holiday mourns the lives of far too many sex workers who are lost to violence, stigma, and discrimination in a criminalized environment.

DSW participated in three events across the country. In NY, DSW’s Crystal DeBoise and Frances Steele volunteered at Judson Memorial Church’s annual vigil. Melissa Broudo and J. Leigh Brantly joined allies in Providence at COYOTE RI’s vigil, while Kaytlin Bailey attended SWOP-NH’s event in Manchester.

Community leader and activist Veronica Vera organized the event at Judson Memorial Church. At Judson, activists and allies lit candles for the 51 U.S. sex workers who passed away in the last 12 months, and they commemorated the 215 lives lost around the world. Crystal DeBoise was invited to speak about her renowned anti-trafficking work at the Soar Institute, the Sex Workers Project (SWP), the founding of Human Trafficking Services Program at NYANA in 2002, and the co-founding of DSW.

Our tireless colleague and the founder of COYOTE’s RI chapter, Bella Robinson, organized the Providence event. Speeches from the vigil were taped and are posted here. Melissa Broudo and J. Leigh Brantly were honored to attend.

Ashley Fires from SWOP-NH organized an intimate gathering in Manchester to mourn the loss of life within the sex work community. Kaytlin read her new one-woman show, A Whore’s Eye View, as part of the vigil, celebrating the history of the sex-workers-rights movement.

The December 17 holiday was first observed in 2003 as a memorial vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle. Vulnerability to violence and the experience of violence is an unfortunate reality for many sex workers around the world, as they confront varying levels of criminality and stigmatization. The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) compiles an annual list of sex workers who have lost their lives, along with biographical info about each individual. The list can be accessed on the December 17 website.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that 40% of sex workers have experienced an increase in violence since the passage of the federal FOSTA/SESTA law in April 2018.

DSW’s Melissa Broudo and J. Leigh Brantly are pictured with Bella Robinson (center back) and fellow activists from COYOTE RI.

The New York vigil was held at Judson Memorial Church. DSW’s Frances Steele and Crystal DeBoise are pictured with activists from around the country. Organizer and long-time movement leader Veronica Vera stands at the center of the group in red.

Veronica Vera reads the names of sex workers who have passed away in the United States in the last year.

A compilation of photos from the New Hampshire event on December 17. In the top left, DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey performs her new show on the history of sex work. In the top right, activists from SWOP New Hampshire are pictured together.

DSW Attends Two Key Conferences

December 4-6, 2019

Kaytlin Bailey shared DSW’s work at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC’s) Annual Policy Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. ALEC is the largest voluntary membership organization of state legislators and private-sector representatives in the U.S.

DSW also attended the National Organization for Women’s (NOW’s) New York state conference to learn and exchange ideas around current efforts to combat human trafficking in the U.S. Kaytlin raised concerns about whether arresting consenting adults is actually helpful to trafficking survivors.

Kaytlin Bailey is pictured at DSW’s expo booth in Scottsdale.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey (left) is pictured with Ana Maria Archila (right) from the Center for Popular Democracy.

Remembering Yang Song: Wife, daughter, New Yorker, and victim of criminalization

November 30, 2019

Two years ago, during a raid on the Flushing massage parlor where she worked, 38-year-old Yang Song jumped from the building’s third-floor window, rather than face the vice officers who were running up the stairs. Yang died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital the following morning.

Yang Song had been arrested months before on prostitution charges. Her case was referred to the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs), and a court date had been scheduled for December. Hyphen magazine’s interview with Yang’s family following her death confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted while in police custody.

An officer had confiscated her money and her phone and then demanded sexual services. An immigrant working in a criminalized industry, Yang felt powerless to refuse. She bravely reported the assault to the local precinct and helped them identify the police assailant.

This victory was short-lived and costly for Yang. Following the report, vice agents began to harass and threaten her. They pressured Yang to become an undercover informant, to turn in clients and friends. When Yang refused, law enforcement targeted her in repeated stings. With the assault in recent memory and a December court date scheduled, facing re-arrest would have meant prison time and possible deportation, not to mention the prospect of another attack, or worse.

Yang’s experience at the hands of law enforcement is an illustration of why sex workers are unlikely—and in some cases unable—to report crimes committed against them (especially by the police). Following her death, a report issued by the Queens District Attorney’s office denied any wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement.

The raid took place months after NYPD pledged to curb prostitution arrests. A 2017 report by the Urban Justice Center revealed that arrests of Asian-identified people for prostitution and unlicensed massages increased by 2700% from 2012 to 2016. Fully 87% of the arrests for unlicensed massages were of Asian migrant women.

Tragedies like this are enabled by bad laws that systematically disenfranchise immigrants and sex workers. Police raids are traumatic and violent, treating supposed victims as criminals. Arrests do not help, saddling defendants with court fees and criminal records that further limit their ability to find another job. HTICs, established in Queens Criminal Court in 2010 and later expanded to NYC’s other four boroughs, fail to identify trafficking survivors and neglect to provide workers with the services they need, such as employment, housing, education, and healthcare.

A report by the Yale School of Public Health found that courts increase harm by providing a way for ICE to target immigrants.

Criminalization of prostitution allows discrimination and government-sponsored violence to thrive. Yang Song’s tragic death brought these realities to light. In a world that pities, condemns, or erases them, sex workers continue to demand rights. Organizations like Red Canary Song and Womankind advocate for Asian sex workers and survivors of trafficking in New York. Red Canary Song held a beautiful vigil to honor Yang Song’s life on November 30 of this year.

Help support the rights and safety of all by visiting DSW’s Take Action page.

Marchers honor Yang Song at a vigil in 2018 and call for decriminalization to prevent more harm. (Photo: Emma Whitford/Hyphen magazine, 2019)

Yang Song’s family traveled to New York the month after her death in the hopes of gaining insight into the circumstances surrounding her death. Yang’s mother, Yumai Shi, and brother, Hai Song, are pictured in the office of the Flushing Neighborhood Watch Team’s office on 40th Road, across the street from where Yang fell. (Photo: Scott Heins/The Appeal, 2019)

Defense Lawyers Understand the Harms of Criminalization

November 20-22, 2019

DSW attended the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ (NACDL’s) 2019 Defending Sex Crimes Seminar, an annual event that brings together defense attorneys and criminal justice reform advocates. NACDL is an opportunity for experts to exchange knowledge around protecting the rights of defendants and promoting a more equitable justice process.

This year’s seminar, “Zealous Advocacy in Sexual Assault & Child Victims Cases,” covered topics such as alcohol and memory, campus sex cases, DNA, false confessions, issues with juveniles in sex cases, and the psychology of the jury, among others. Melissa Broudo and Kaytlin Bailey of DSW got a warm reception at the conference. They enjoyed talking to compassionate litigators with decades of experience working on legal issues related to sex and crime.

DSW’s booth illustrated the disastrous consequences of conflating consensual adult sex work with trafficking; the former should be decriminalized, and the latter should not. Defense attorneys visiting the booth expressed nearly unanimous support of DSW’s work.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey and Melissa Broudo (left to right) on the first day of the conference.

Making friends and gaining allies: DSW’s Melissa Broudo and Kaytlin Bailey are pictured with new DSW supporter, criminal defense attorney Rick Horowitz.

DSW Joins NYC Activists To Educate the Next Generation of Social-Justice Lawyers on Decriminalization

November 6, 2019

Melissa Broudo joined fellow activists and attorneys for a panel discussion on the whats, whys, and hows of sex-work decriminalization. The panel was organized by the NYU Law School chapter of If/When/How—Lawyering for Reproductive Justice. Fellow guests included Tiffany Cabán, who is a career public defender, recent candidate for Queens District Attorney, and national organizer for the Working Families Party; TS Candii, committee steering member of DecrimNY and sex work activist; Jared Trujillo, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society and steering committee member of DecrimNY; and Kate Zen, the co-founder and interim director of Red Canary Song. All speakers have a history advocating for marginalized communities in New York City, in particular, LGBTQ and TGNC folks, migrants, sex workers, and survivors.

The panelists brought a variety of skills, backgrounds, and experience to the panel, which led to an informed discussion articulating the compounding harms of current policies criminalizing sex work. Despite their diverse backgrounds, all five advocates vigorously emphasized that the decriminalization of sex work provides the best path toward decarceration, harm reduction, restorative justice, and community health and safety. The conversation included a history of the sex workers’ rights movement, the conflation of sex work with human trafficking, the push for “End Demand” (partial criminalization), and the exclusion of sex workers from the Me Too movement.

It was exciting to see activists come together, share their expertise, and educate the next generation of social justice lawyers on decriminalization. The panel lasted nearly two hours. After the discussion concluded, the audience was allowed to ask questions and stressed how appreciative they were to learn about these issues, so often misportrayed or overlooked. It’s time to start listening to sex workers.

DSW’s Melissa Broudo explains the difference between full decriminalization and partial criminalization.

Melissa Broudo of DSW and the SOAR Institute, Kate Zen of Red Canary Song, Tiffany Cabán from the Working Families Party, Jared Trujillo of Legal Aid Society, and TS Candii of DecrimNY (L to R).

DSW Presents at the American Public Health Association Expo

November 2-6, 2019

DSW highlighted the public-health implications of decriminalizing sex work at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA’s) annual international conference in Philadelphia. Attendees conduct harm-prevention research on STI prevention, drug use, the environment, migration, sexual health, and violence on national and global scales. The vast majority of public-health professionals who approached DSW’s table agreed that the data from across disciplines support full decriminalization to improve public safety, health, and human rights for workers and communities.

Health professionals and researchers understand that decriminalization is the only way to combat violence, vulnerability, and health risks sex workers currently face. Many attendees have experience working in STI and gender-based violence prevention, and issues related to sexual and reproductive health. Their research informs their support and understanding of DSW’s work.

The conference is the largest and most influential annual gathering of public health professionals in the world. This year there were close to 13,000 attendees. Melissa Broudo and Frances Steele presented DSW’s work at the Expo and attended the Bloomberg School of Public Health Alumni event. Attendees expressed their appreciation for DSW’s work and our presence at APHA. We are excited to return next year!

DSW’s Melissa Broudo and Frances Steele work the table at the APHA expo.