“Inspire yourself to inspire others.” — Ceyenne Doroshow’s motto
Activist, performer, writer, public speaker, and dedicated organizer and activist, Doroshow has worked relentlessly for the wellbeing of trans people and trans sex workers, continues to shine a light on injustice, and leads those in need to care and safety. Among her accomplishments, she has written a cookbook entitled Cooking in Heels and is the founder and executive director of Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S.). Her mission in G.L.I.T.S. is to create sustainable holistic care of the LGBTQAI+ community, regardless of where they are in the world. She also serves on the boards of SWOP-USA, SOAR Institute, Caribbean Equality Project, and New York Transgender Advocacy Group, and writes the newsletter for SWOP Behind Bars.
Photo credit: Ceyenne Doroshow (@doroshow/Instagram)
Robyn Few (Oct. 7, 1958 - Sept. 13, 2012)
The founder of the national Sex Workers Outreach Project and a former sex worker, Few was a leading and steady voice in the mission to decriminalize prostitution. Her tireless work has inspired activists for years and has laid the foundations for outreach work, caregiving for AIDS and medical marijuana patients, and effective lobbying strategies in the Bay area for these issues. She helped to organize the first International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17, 2003, while under house arrest after her conviction of prostitution. We still celebrate and honor D17 to this day.
Photo credit: Robin Few/swopusa.org
Sylvia Rivera (July 2, 1951 - Feb. 19, 2002)
“We have to do it because we can no longer stay invisible. We should not be ashamed of who we are. We have to show the world that we are numerous. There are many of us out there.” — Sylvia Rivera
Sylvia Rivera was born in the Bronx, left home at age 11, and discovered a group of trans folx, sex workers, and drag queens who welcomed her into their community. Her activism began in the 1960s during the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. Marsha P. Johnson and Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which advocated for LGBTQAI+ rights, especially for the inclusion and visibility of trans folx in the gay rights movement. STAR also pushed for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which eventually was signed into law in 2003.
Photo credit: Val Shaff/BESE.com
“We have to look for one another because we’re all we got. The rest of the world really doesn’t give a shit whether we live or die. And the thing is, when the dust settles, I want a whole bunch of transgender girls to stand up and say: I’m still fucking here.” — Miss Major
Miss Major is a leader and former sex worker in the trans community in New York City and California. She experienced, like so many others, violence at the hands of police and served five years in prison for her activist work. While in prison, she connected with Frank “Big Black” Smith who taught her more about community organizing and gave her new hope for building up the transgender community and continuing to provide the advocacy and care they need. During the AIDS crisis, she provided funds for funerals and was an active caregiver for those affected in her community in San Diego.
Photo courtesy of Major! Documentary and Vice.com
Marsha P. Johnson (August 24, 1945 - July 6, 1992)
“How many years has it taken people to realize that we are all brothers and sisters and humans in the same human race?” — Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson is most recognized for her involvement in the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969. She co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Sylvia Rivera and was an AIDS activist with ACT UP. She was also a performer, model, and a prominent figure in the community.
Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival and Variety.com
Former State Rep. Elizabeth Edwards of NH
Represented the Democratic party in the 11th District of Hillsborough, New Hampshire, from December 3, 2014, to December 5, 2018. Edwards’ platform included criminal justice reform, marriage equality, education reform, and maintaining New Hampshire’s tax advantages. The bills she introduced to the House include (but are not limited to): permitting qualifying patients and designated caregivers to cultivate cannabis for therapeutic use (HB1476), removing criminal laws related to prostitution (HB 1614), establishing a committee to study the decriminalization of sex work (HB287), and reducing the criminal penalty for certain controlled drugs (HB1792). We applaud and value her commitment to representing the needs of her constituents in her political career.
Photo credit: elizabethedwardsnh.com
Dame Catherine Healy in New Zealand
Dame Catherine Healy was a founding member of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective (NZPC), awarded New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal in 1993, and appointed Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II for her work to better the lives of sex workers. Her campaign with NZPC helped write and pass the Prostitute Reform Act to allow brothels to operate as legitimate businesses. She is also an author and field researcher and has been invited to speak at the House of Commons and Oxford University, among other institutions, to discuss the rights of sex workers.
Photo credit: Catherine Healy and bbc.com
Margo St. James (Sept. 12, 1937 - Jan. 11, 2021)
Margo St. James was the founder of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE) and St. James Infirmary Clinic serving sex workers in San Francisco. St. James was instrumental in building the activist scene in California, serving and protecting sex workers and LGBTQAI+ folx, and opening crucial litigation in Rhode Island (COYOTE v. Roberts), arguing that the state had too much authority over people’s personal sexual lives and choices. She was also famous for her successful and creative fundraising, such as the annual Hooker’s Ball.
Photo credit: Jim Marshall 1995 and windycitytimes.com
AKA Scarlot Harlot, Carol Leigh is a filmmaker, artist, author, and sex worker rights activist — she coined the term “sex worker” in 1978 at a Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media conference. In Leigh’s essay “Inventing Sex Work” (published later), she writes: “I invented sex work. Not the activity, of course. The term. This invention was motivated by my desire to reconcile my feminist goals with the reality of my life and the lives of the women I knew. I wanted to create an atmosphere of tolerance within and outside the women's movement for women working in the sex industry.” Leigh also chairs Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival and is the director at Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network (BAYSWAN). She is known throughout the activist community as a continually loving, inspirational, and supportive mentor.
Photo credit: Video Data Bank 1993 video interview
The women involved in the Prostitute Strike in Lyon, France, 1975
In a historic move, full service workers in Lyon, France, occupied five Catholic churches for eight days and garnered international support and recognition. They were protesting laws that criminalized their clients, police fines, and destruction and gentrification of the red light districts in France.
Photo credit: Alain Norgues/Sygma via Getty Images
Dancers of the Lusty Lady
The Lusty Lady was a peep show establishment in Seattle, WA, and San Francisco, CA. The San Francisco branch was bought by the strippers who worked there, and they formed a worker cooperative. It was already unique for being a unionized business. Dancers received an hourly wage and tips on top of that wage.
Photo credit: lustyladysf.com
Giselle-Marie is a stripper, activist, and creator of the NYC Stripper Strike, a national movement launched in 2017 to inspire and aid strippers to advocate for the changes they want to see in the clubs: fair treatment and the abolishment of racism in strip clubs everywhere.
Photo credit: soarinstitute.org Women’s March Gallery
Sharmus Outlaw (d. July 2016)
Sharmus Outlaw was a dedicated activist and advocate for health care access for the trans community. She was a policy advocate for Best Practices Policy Alliance, U.S. representative for the Red Umbrella Fund, founder of Different Avenues in Washington, D.C., and had 25 years’ outreach experience in D.C., North Carolina, and Maryland. Sadly, she passed away in July 2016. The Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute in NYC and the Outlaw Project in Arizona are both named in her honor.
Photo credit: sharmusoutlaw.com
Honolulu native Janet Mock is a fearless advocate for transgender visibility and rights. Not only a successful editor and author, she has appeared on many talk shows to advocate for her experience and the experiences of others. In terms of her heroism for sex workers, especially trans sex workers, she worked in the sex industry in order to fund her transition and has since gone on to write a book about her experience entitled Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More. She is a beacon of intelligence, confidence, and a symbol of transcending stigma to fully express herself.
“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.” ― Janet Mock, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More
Photo credit: Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images. Copyright: 2018 Getty Image
Petite Jasmine (April 24, 1986 - July 11, 2013)
Petite Jasmine (legally known as Eva-Maree) was a Swedish sex worker, activist, and outspoken critic of the Nordic model. She had known that her ex-boyfriend was violent and stalking her. When she went to the authorities to report this worrying behavior in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, the police dismissed her because she was a sex worker. In the years leading up to her murder, her ex, already sanctioned for his violent behavior, got full custody of their children because of her sex worker status. The European sex worker and activist community held protests and memorials for Petite Jasmine and another sex worker murdered in Turkey, Dora Oezer.
Margaret Cho is a comedian, actress, writer, producer, singer/songwriter, and passionate advocate for anti-racism, anti-bullying, and pro-LGBTQAI+ rights and visibility. She has also been public about her experiences in the sex industry. She has a varied and extensive collection of projects, accolades, and side projects. She is also the executive producer of “Mercy Mistress,” a web series that delves into the world of BDSM, kink, and sex workers.
Photo Credit: Pixie Vision Photography
Highlighting the grave consequences of NYPD’s vice squad’s work to dismantle the unregulated sex industry in New York, this New York Times article paints a poignant picture of Yang’s life and tragic death post-raid. It is prudent to point out that the author mentions that the New York City police commissioner who revealed in early 2017 that Vice shifted its work to target the pimps and the johns instead of the service providers themselves. While this seems harm reductive, this decreases safety and increases violence against the providers. If johns are criminalized, anyone seeking pay-for-play sex will be more likely to want to break the law and push boundaries. The answer is the full decriminalization of sex work to protect the lives of all operating within unregulated economies.
Laverne Cox is an American actress, a documentary filmmaker, and a tireless activist and advocate for the LGBTQI and TGNC communities. A career performer, Cox rose to prominence for her role as Sophia Bursett in Netflix’s award-winning series “Orange Is the New Black.” She became the first openly transgender individual to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in any category.
Cox has been vocal about her struggle working in performing arts, first as a gender-nonconforming individual, and then as a trans woman. She faced a lot of shame, and she mostly auditioned for and was cast for trans roles. Often discouraged by discrimination, Cox has been continually inspired by Candis Cayne’s character on “Dirty Sexy Money” and kept pursuing her dream against all the odds (see https://lavernecox.com/about/).
Cox continues to make historic strides in her career and inspire through her activism. She is an empowering advocate, a leading voice in the anti-violence movement. She supports gender-nonconforming individuals in moving beyond binary expectations to live more authentically as individuals. Cox was one of Glamour magazine’s 2014 Women of the Year, one of The Grio’s 100 Most Influential African Americans, and one of the Top 50 Trans Icons by The Huffington Post. She received the Courage Award from the Anti-Violence Project and the Reader’s Choice Award from Out magazine, among other accolades.
Photo Credit: Yahoo! Lifestyle