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)

VT Legislators Move Toward Supporting Sex Workers

January 3, 2020

A group of VT lawmakers introduced two historic bills for sex workers’ rights. The first bill, HB 569, would repeal current statutes that prohibit sex work. If passed, the bill would remove criminal penalties for consensual, adult prostitution in the state. Human trafficking—or any other form of coercion involving sex—would remain illegal. 

State Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington) introduced the legislation, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Diana Gonzalez (P-Winooksi), Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), and Rep. Emilie Kornheiser (D-Brattleboro).

Rep. Colburn understands the significant risks faced by sex workers in an illicit, underground economy. Colburn told the Vermont Digger that sex workers “should feel like they have the protection of the police if they need it.” These lawmakers understand that where sex work is criminalized, workers experience a heightened risk of sexual and physical violence by criminals posing as clients, the general public, and law enforcement.

If HB 569 is enacted into law, VT would become the first state to decriminalize sex work fully.

That bill will be considered in tandem with HB 568, which would provide immunity from prosecution for people who witness or are victims of violent crimes while involved in sex work or human trafficking. This bill would also create a study commission to seek expertise, examine existing data, and make policy recommendations relating to sex work in VT.

Both bills are heading to the House Judiciary Committee for review. DSW looks forward to providing support to VT activists and policy advocates. This landmark legislation is an essential step toward promoting the health, safety, and human rights of marginalized voices.

Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington), a member of the VT House

HB 569, as introduced, would decriminalize consensual, adult prostitution in Vermont. The bill simply repeals the statute that criminalizes such activity. Trafficking or any form of coercion in sex work remains illegal.

2019 In Review: DSW Concludes Its First Year

January 1, 2020

This month marks Decriminalize Sex Work’s first full calendar year as a national advocacy organization. It is hard to believe how fast it has gone!

Since DSW’s founding in the spring of 2019, our organization has:

1. Helped New Hampshire activists promote a study commission on sex work and human trafficking in the state, and offered expert testimony at numerous hearings;

2. Submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation to support its constitutional challenge of SESTA/FOSTA;

3. Participated in a successful hearing with internationally recognized experts on the subject of sex work and trafficking in Rhode Island;

4. Hosted a Unity Reception at the Cornell Club in New York City, at which speakers included Dame Catherine Healy of New Zealand and Ceyenne Doroshow;

5. Provided expert testimony in a hearing to fully decriminalize sex work in Washington, D.C.;

6. Partnered with local sex worker rights advocates on legislative initiatives and community outreach efforts in NH, RI, WA, HI, CA, VT, and DC;

7. Established a grants program for sex worker rights activists and organizations around the country — five different individuals and organizations, spanning the country from Hawaii to New Hampshire, received grants to further the cause of decriminalizing sex work;

8. Attended and exhibited at the following national and international conferences:

  • South by Southwest 2019;
  • The Seattle Annual Sex Worker Summit;
  • Law and Society Association Conference;
  • National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting;
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers 2019 Defending Sex Crimes Seminar;
  • Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s 2019 Sexual Freedom Summit;
  • 2019 International Human Trafficking and Social Justice conference;
  • American Public Health Association’s annual international conference;
  • American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2019 policy summit;
  • and the National Organization for Women’s New York state conference.


DSW is gaining momentum. We have expanded our team from six to nine dedicated members and doubled our budget to accommodate a growing number of exciting initiatives. Through mailing lists, social media, and personal and professional partnerships, our outreach touches thousands of advocates around the world. We participate in coalitions and initiatives supporting sex workers, trafficking survivors, LGBTQ, TGNC, and migrant rights across the country.

This month we met with lobbyists working to pass two incredible decriminalization bills in Vermont, and we are assisting the New York Public Advocate’s office in drafting a Sex Worker Bill of Rights. DSW has expanded its grants program to better serve the incredible work activists are already pursuing nationwide.

It is because of supporters like you that DSW can have the impact that it does. Thank you for believing in this organization and following our journey. If you are able, please consider donating via DSW’s website to help us continue fighting for the rights, health, and safety of sex workers and their communities in the United States.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey testifies before the Council of the D.C. city council in support of legislation to decriminalize adult sex work.

L to R: DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly, Melissa Broudo, Kaytlin Bailey, Crystal DeBoise, and Avery Manuel pose with Dame Catherine Healy on May 2 at the Cornell Club.

DSW's Kaytlin Bailey is pictured with Ricci Levy, WFF's CEO, president, and former executive director named the lead plaintiff in the Woodhull v. USA case, as well as the team from Davis Wright Tremain Law Firm, litigating the suit. (L to R: Larry Walter, Ricci Levy, Robert Corn-Revere, Kaytlin Bailey and Ronald G London; Photo: DSW, 2019)

Kate Mogulescu, Esq., lead attorney for the ABA Survivor Reentry Project; Jillian Modzeleski, Esq., senior trial attorney for Human Trafficking Intervention Court; Dame Catherine Healy; Jill McCracken, PhD; Scott Cunningham, PhD; and Melissa Broudo, Esq. (L to R) work to prepare for their testimony before the RI House Judiciary Committee.

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

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.