‘Six Feet Apart’ Podcast With Alex Wagner Features J. Leigh Brantly

May 14, 2020

DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly was a guest on the Crooked Media podcast “Six Feet Apart with Alex Wagner,” discussing sex work amidst the pandemic. “Six Feet Apart” is a weekly show that explores every aspect of the human experience during COVID-19 and how people are surviving this extraordinary and life-defining event.

In the episode “Sex,” Wagner interviewed three professionals engaged in the sex-work industry in different ways. Alex Boden, CEO of the porn site kink.com, described how the nationwide lockdown has impacted the porn industry. Adult film actress Lotus Lain explained how porn actors may have been better prepared than most for life on lockdown. J. Leigh Brantly has been a movement builder at the intersection of sex work, queer studies, and transgender non-conforming advocacy for a long time. Brantly is a BDSM dominatrix, in addition to their work with DSW and other NYC-based nonprofit organizations.

Boden and Brantly dove into how the kink community — and sex work in general — has had to move online to follow social-distancing protocols, which, as Brantly put it, comes “with problems for some of us and answers for others.” They explored the psychological complexity and intimacy involved in sex work, the changing sexual appetites of individuals during quarantine, and what COVID-19 spells for the future.

“The great thing about sex workers is that we’ve been practicing harm reduction for a lot longer than the general population. … [W]e’re experts in harm reduction, and we’re experts in consent. It’s what we do for a living,” said Brantly.

To listen to the full episode, visit the “Six Feet Apart” web page here.

Wagner’s Crooked Media podcast explores the hidden worlds of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DSW Newsletter #14 (May 2020)

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...
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Lobbying in the Time of COVID?

May 7, 2020

DSW participated in Equality New York’s LGBTQI Virtual Day of Action. Community experts led panels and webinars on the movement’s policy priorities for this legislative session to improve the lives of LGBTQI New Yorkers and their families. After opening remarks from elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), and Harry Bronson (D-Rochester), webinars were held on the loitering repeal (“Walking While Trans”) bill, the Transgender Prisons and Jail Protection bill, and a law regarding comprehensive sexuality education.

Lobbying meetings for these pieces of legislation, along with the LGBTQI Long-Term Care Facility Residents Bill of Rights, took place in the afternoon. DSW’s Melissa Broudo facilitated a legislative meeting with Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-North Brooklyn). Along with DSW’s Frances Steele, the group advocated for the passage of the Repeal of Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution, a dangerous and discriminatory law used overwhelmingly to target transgender people of color in New York state.

The day of action was a resounding success under unprecedented circumstances. The following day, the lieutenant governor voiced her official support for repealing the loitering statute, stating, “We have to repeal the ban on walking while trans. It’s a buzz word but it is also just people exercising their human right to be who they are, where they want to be and they should not be harassed by that … [it’s] something that legislatively we need to take up, absolutely.”

Thank you, Lt. Gov. Hochul, for your support on this critical initiative to ensure that no individual is criminalized on the basis of their identity.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (bottom right) gives opening remarks. Also pictured (from left to right, top to bottom) are Amanda Babine, executive director of Equality NY; Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), and Harry Bronson (D-Rochester); and Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) [from left to right, top to bottom]. (Photo: DSW, 2020)

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul released her statement of support for the “Walking While Trans” repeal bill following the LGBTQI Day of Action. (Image: DSW, 2020)

DSW Newsletter #14 (May 2020)

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...
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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)

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...
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Wisconsin Judge Grants Strip Clubs Eligibility for Federal Funds

May 1, 2020

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of four Wisconsin strip club owners who were denied eligibility to apply for SBA loans through the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The plaintiffs were told by their banks that they were ineligible to apply for emergency federal aid due to the “prurient sexual nature” of their businesses. Unable to make payroll, their employees were left without a safety net during a global crisis, but strip clubs are pushing back against this discriminatory clause within SBA regulations.

The prurient clause, established in federal law in 1996, states that businesses presenting “live performances of a prurient sexual nature” or directly or indirectly deriving gross revenue from sexually prurient products, services, depictions, or displays, are ineligible for SBA loans. SBA’s PPP is designed to cover small businesses’ payrolls and other expenses for eight weeks during the stay-at-home order.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that the club owners are indeed eligible for loans under the PPP. The four plaintiffs — Camelot Banquet Rooms Inc., Downtown Juneau Investments LLC, Midrad LLC, and PPH Properties I LLC — argued that the 1996 regulation violates free speech and the equal-protection component of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The judge did not grant the injunction on the grounds of the regulations’ unconstitutionality. Instead, Adelman’s ruling determined that the CARES Act did not specify that any industries should be denied loans based on the nature of their services. Because the plaintiffs engage in non-obscene businesses that comply with federal, state, and local law, and the PPP is a new, COVID-19 specific loan program, the 1996 regulation is neither specific to this program, nor does it serve a reasonable purpose. 

“These businesses must make payroll and pay rent and utility bills, just like any other business. Their contributions to the national economy are no different than the contributions made by small businesses in other industries,” the judge concluded. Adelman also suggested that the plaintiffs would likely succeed in arguing that their businesses were not sexually prurient. This regulation has “singled them out for unfavorable treatment based solely on the content of their speech,” violating their First Amendment rights.

A similar case brought in Michigan has yet to be determined.

Strip clubs and other sex related businesses aren’t the only ones to challenge SBA guidelines related to excluding “prurient” businesses. Payday lenders, cleaning crews, and lobbyists have also filed lawsuits to receive aid. (Photo: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post, 2020)

Federal Judge Lynn S. Adelman in WI issued the positive court ruling. (Photo: Wisconsin Law Journal, 2015)

DSW Newsletter #14 (May 2020)

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...
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DSW Joins Virtual Town Hall With Movement Experts

April 25, 2020

DSW’s Melissa Broudo and J. Leigh Brantly were featured in the latest edition of New Pride Agenda’s virtual town-hall series, titled “Let’s Talk Sex & Sex Work.” The webinar brought together activists, policy experts, and community members to explore the economic and cultural impacts of social distancing for LGBTQ+ people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

LGBTQ+ communities are feeling the effect of social distancing in innumerable ways in response to COVID-19. Those who express themselves sexually, as well as those who work in the sex industry, face significant challenges, ranging from loss of work to social isolation. These realities can resurface past experiences of homophobia and transphobia, creating barriers to accessing health and safety resources.

The webinar was hosted by Cecilia Gentili, co-chair of NEW Pride Agenda and founder and CEO of Trans Equity Consulting. Experts who spoke on the panel also included Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for the Division of Disease Control of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Ceyenne Doroshow, DSW consultant and founder and executive director of G.L.I.T.S.; and Jose, an HIV+ sex worker and advocate. The discussion combined the varying expertise of panelists to highlight gaps in services, explore potential solutions, and provide a space to share resources.

View the full webinar here.

The New Pride Agenda hosted a virtual town hall series on issues facing the LGBTQ+ community during the pandemic. (Image: The New Pride Agenda, 2020)

DSW Newsletter #14 (May 2020)

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...
Read More
Leader of Mexico Sex-Worker Group Dies of COVID-19

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DSW Participates in TGNC/NB Advocacy Day in NY

April 21, 2020

The New York State legislature is following social distancing protocol, and advocacy groups have organized virtual lobbying meetings to continue their activism. Through their work with the New York Gender Diversity Coalition and other organizations, DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly helped organize an historic day of activism. Transgender, Gender-Non Conforming, Non-Binary (TGNC/NB) Advocacy Day is an annual event where activists, community members, and policy experts from across the state travel to Albany to fight for legislative action on behalf of the TGNC/NB community. This year, thanks to the hard work of movement organizers like J, the community still met, albeit from a distance.

The event began with an address on the state of TGNC rights in New York State. Panels spanned topics of “Sex Work and COVID-19,” “TGNC Healing and Grief,” and lobbying. Brian Romero from the Walking While Trans Coalition taught a webinar on the legislative process in New York State. Jason Walker from the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) led a Twitter town hall in which participants used social media to advocate for two of the most critical active bills supporting TGNC/NB rights this session: the Gender Recognition Act (SB0056/A3457) and the Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution repeal bill (SB2253/A654), also known as the “Walking While Trans Ban.”

DSW’s Melissa Broudo facilitated the webinar panel, “Beyond the Transaction: TGNCNB Sex Work and COVID-19.” Panelists included Ceyenne Doroshow, from GLITS and DSW consultant; J. Leigh Brantly of DSW, NYTAG, the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy & Rights (SOAR) Institute, and Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (GLITS); TS Candii of The Walking While Trans Coalition; and Kiara St. James of NYTAG. The discussion explored how COVID-19 has significantly impacted the sex-worker community; the ways this community has used mutual aid and emergency organizing to mitigate vulnerabilities; and the unique stress this puts on TGNC/NB sex workers.

Kiara St. James, Executive Director of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG), gives opening remarks to participants.

DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly speaks on the webinar, “Beyond the Transaction: TGNCNB Sex Work and COVID-19.”

DSW Newsletter #14 (May 2020)

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...
Read More
Leader of Mexico Sex-Worker Group Dies of COVID-19

DSW Participates in TGNC/NB Advocacy Day in NY

April 21, 2020 The New York State legislature is following social distancing protocol, and advocacy groups have organized virtual lobbying meetings to continue their activism. Through their work with the...
Read More
DSW Participates in TGNC/NB Advocacy Day in NY

DSW Joins Virtual Town Hall With Movement Experts

April 25, 2020 DSW’s Melissa Broudo and J. Leigh Brantly were featured in the latest edition of New Pride Agenda’s virtual town-hall series, titled “Let’s Talk Sex & Sex Work.”...
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Wisconsin Judge Grants Strip Clubs Eligibility for Federal Funds

May 1, 2020 A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of four Wisconsin strip club owners who were denied eligibility to apply for SBA loans through the CARES...
Read More
Wisconsin Judge Grants Strip Clubs Eligibility for Federal Funds

Lobbying in the Time of COVID?

May 7, 2020 DSW participated in Equality New York’s LGBTQI Virtual Day of Action. Community experts led panels and webinars on the movement’s policy priorities for this legislative session to...
Read More
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‘Six Feet Apart’ Podcast With Alex Wagner Features J. Leigh Brantly

May 14, 2020 DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly was a guest on the Crooked Media podcast “Six Feet Apart with Alex Wagner,” discussing sex work amidst the pandemic. “Six Feet Apart”...
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DSW Newsletter Archive