International Whore’s Day 2020: Virtual and Vibrant

June 2, 2020

The 45th annual celebration of International Whore’s Day (IWD) departed from the usual, where sex workers and their allies don red attire and march through city streets across the country. This year, the IWDNYC Coalition collaborated with Kink Out Events to launch an online rally and social media takeover honoring protests for sex worker rights around the world. The live stream featured NYC-based sex workers, organizers, and activists who spoke about survival, community, and resilience in a criminalized industry.

Speakers included Ceyenne Doroshow of GLITS and DSW, who highlighted her organization’s harm-reduction work, providing relief to sex workers amidst the pandemic; Aneesha and Alisha of the Black trans-led organization, SWOP Bronx; Bianney Garcia of Make the Road, a formerly undocumented, Mexican-born, trans human rights activist who survived 18 months on Rikers Island after a transphobic attack; and so many more inspirational figures.

IWD commemorates an eight-day occupation by over 100 sex workers at Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France, in 1975. The strike called attention to the increasing violence against sex workers perpetrated by the French government. They demanded an end to fines, stigma, and police harassment — and the release of 10 sex workers who had been imprisoned a few days earlier for solicitation. The movement was widely covered by international media, prompting support from labor and feminist organizations. Eight days after the occupation began, the police forcibly removed the protesters from the church, but their mark had already been made.

DSW tuned in to the NYC event, along with hundreds of other participants. Attendees also participated in the social media rally, flooding feeds with stories of survival and expressions of respect for sex worker communities. We were honored to be part of this incredible event — led by sex workers and supported by allies — utilizing the power of art and storytelling to spread public awareness around the issues facing our community.

This year’s digital rally was streamed in four languages, including ASL. (Image: IWD, 2020)

Protesters pictured inside Saint-Nizier Church in 1975 during the eight-day strike. (Photo: Carole Rousopoullos / Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, 1975)

Demonstrations for International Whore’s Day filled the West Village of Manhattan in 2018. (Photo: Danielle Blunt, 2018)

DSW Newsletter #15 (June 2020)

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DSW Newsletter Archive

Decriminalize, For Public Health

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact: Kaytlin Bailey, Communications Director
kaytlin@dswork.org (m) 919-649-7725

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
May 15, 2020

Decriminalize, For Public Health

Yesterday, UNAIDS, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime called on global leaders “to make detention a last resort, to close drug rehabilitation detention centers and to decriminalize sex work, same-sex sexual relations, and drug use.

Decriminalize Sex Work, a national advocacy organization, is calling on states and cities to follow the UN’s recommendations and stop policing prostitution-related crimes immediately, as a matter of public health.

Global health experts are urging us to release as many people as possible from incarceration to reduce our collective susceptibility to this pandemic. High-density prisons spread disease amongst inmates, visitors, and employees. Guards and other essential staff bring the virus back home to their families, who then spread it around the community. You don’t need to know a single incarcerated person to want to reduce prison and jail density for your own safety. A simple way to start is by decriminalizing consensual adult sexual activities.

This is a matter of public health and safety. Melissa Broudo, policy director for Decriminalize Sex Work, says “Arresting adults for negotiated, consensual sex has always been a human rights violation for those arrested, but this global pandemic has really shown us how these arrests put all of us at risk.”

Kaytlin Bailey, communications director for Decriminalize Sex Work says “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Decriminalizing prostitution improves the health and safety of communities.”

The urgent call for action has never been clearer. Release nonviolent offenders from prison and stop arresting people for adult consensual prostitution.

–end–

Leader of Mexico Sex-Worker Group Dies of COVID-19

May 5, 2020

This month, DSW honors Jaime Montejo, one of the founding members of the Elisa Martinez Street Brigade to Support Women; the sex worker support organization can be credited with decriminalizing sex work in Mexico City. Montejo dedicated his life to uplifting the sex workers of Mexico City. Early this month he died after contracting COVID-19.

Fellow activists and community members continue Montejo’s critical work, fighting for the rights and dignity of all people, even as they mourn his devastating loss.

In a Los Angeles Times article, Kate Linthicum reported that just last month, Jaime was in downtown Mexico City with co-workers from the Street Brigade. Wearing a surgical mask, Montejo and his co-founders, Elvira and Rosa Icela Madrid, brought meals, face covers, and tarps to sex workers who had seen their livelihoods disappear overnight as a result of the pandemic. Unable to find clients, workers were forced out of the $5/night hotels they had been living in and set up a makeshift camp near the subway station.

Montejo and the Madrid sisters met as students together at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, studying prostitution in Mexico City’s red-light district in the 1980s. Their research coincided with the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Mexico. Sex workers were dying at alarming rates, while being subjected to regular violence at the hands of police, managers, partners, and criminals posing as clients. The trio resolved to make things better. Upon graduation, they set up an advocacy group in the La Merced neighborhood of the city to help workers access healthcare services and contraception and to file reports when they were harassed or assaulted.

They founded the Street Brigade in 1993, named for a sex worker who passed away from complications of AIDS. The organization helps both trafficking survivors — who want to exit the trade — and consensual adult sex workers in need of support. Their advocacy led to a 2014 victory when a judge in Mexico City ruled that prostitutes should be recognized as non-salaried workers, allowing them to access certain benefits. In 2019, city lawmakers effectually decriminalized sex work altogether.

At his memorial, one transgender woman remembered how Montejo’s work had given her a family after she was kicked out of her house at 14 for wearing girls’ clothing. The crowds that gathered to honor him maintained “a healthy distance,” unable to embrace in their grief. Instead, they wrote notes to him and his fellow co-founders and left the notes next to the memorial.

A photograph of Jaime Montejo is displayed at his memorial in Mexico City. (Photo: Kate Linthicum/Los Angeles Times, 2020)

Members of the Street Brigade celebrate Jaime’s life by dancing at his memorial. (Photo: Kate Linthicum/ Los Angeles Times, 2020)

DSW Newsletter #14 (May 2020)

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Sex Worker Rights Community Rallies Around COVID-19 Crisis

March 30, 2020

The COVID-19 virus is a global crisis. There is not a single community that hasn’t been impacted by this pandemic. Businesses are shutting down, people are being laid off in droves, and the systems many of us depend on for survival have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

Sex workers are a financially vulnerable and criminalized community, and thus their lives are greatly impacted by times of uncertainty and strife. In the same way that the financial crisis has endangered the vocations of gig workers, street vendors, performers, and service workers, sex workers have seen their livelihoods turned upside-down in a matter of days.

Sex workers are incredibly resilient. Many are pivoting to online content, finding other ways to hustle and to survive. Community members and allies are sharing resources and establishing grant funds, organizing to prepare for the coming months. Organizations like SWOP BrooklynLysistrata Mutual Care Collective, and the Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network are working to provide emergency relief to those most in need. Others have created harm-reduction guides and social support resources for sex workers and allied communities.

DSW has created a database of relief materials, offering critical support in these uncertain times. Our COVID-19 Resource Guide can be accessed here. We urge you to email us additional resources and share the guide with your networks and anyone who might be in need.

From the DSW community to yours: stay safe, stay inside if you are able, and support one another. Now more than ever is a time for sex workers and allies to come together and show the world our strength.

This was the Red Umbrella Installation from the Sex Workers’ Pop-Up in New York City. The exhibition closed early to support NYC’s containment effort around COVID-19. (Photo: DSW, 2020)

DSW Newsletter #12 (March 2020)

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Our Bodies, Our Labors, Our Streets: International Women’s Day in NYC

March 8, 2020

The International Women’s Strike, also known as Paró Internacional de Mujeres, is a global movement of coalitions in more than 50 countries, organizing around International Women’s Day each year. The movement began in 2017 to honor the work of women across the world, organizing against the criminalization of abortion, femicide, and gender-based violence. This year’s New York festival was co-hosted by the Street Vendor Project and many others, underscoring the importance of feminist labor empowerment and the anti-colonialist values of the movement.

DSW participated in the New York City Women’s Strike Street Fest in honor of International Women’s Day. Entitled “Our Bodies, Our Labors, Our Streets,” the event highlighted the intersection of labor and gender justice. Music, performance, exhibitions, and workshops centered on four main workstations: reproductive justice, the battle over labor, systematic violence over women and feminized bodies, and reclaiming the commons.

At the festival, DSW hosted a table to educate attendees on sex work as a labor issue, and how criminalization creates systemic violence within the sex industry. Dominatrix Ashley Paige and DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly ran a workshop on consent, negotiation, and power in relation to work, sexuality, familial relationships, and gender. Kaytlin Bailey also gave a short speech on DSW’s work, her podcast “The Oldest Profession,” and her new one-woman show, “Whore’s Eye View.” The show is running a reading series at Zinc Bar in the West Village every third Wednesday of the month this summer. Bailey was joined onstage by TS Candii from Decrim NY, who educated the crowd on the importance of passing S2253/A654, to repeal Walking While Trans, this legislative session.

This powerful alliance is an illustration of the interconnected nature of our movements. Reproductive justice, labor, migration, citizenship, race, and state surveillance, to name a few, all function to monitor and criminalize particular identities. Thank you to the Women’s Strike and the Street Vendor Project for such an inspiring event and the chance to highlight our message!

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey appears onstage with TS Candii from Decrim NY shortly after she spoke.

The festival spectators hear from a representative of Women First.

L to R: J. Samantha Johnson, Zoe West, Ximena Garcia Bustamante, and DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly, organizers of the NY Women’s Strike Coalition, are pictured with Dominatrix Ashley Paige after a public workshop on negotiating power and consent taught by Paige and Brantly.

Kaytlin Bailey and Frances Steele are pictured at DSW’s booth.

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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)

DSW Newsletter #12 (March 2020)

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