“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 and 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 (GLITS). Her mission in GLITS 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 and 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 continue 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
Martha 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?” — Martha P. Johnson
Ms. Rivera 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 Rep. Elizabeth Edwards in 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), removal of 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 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 bbc.com
Margo St. James
Margo St. James is 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 and served and protected sex workers, 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 is 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 DC, and has 25 years’ outreach experience in Washington DC, North Carolina, and Maryland. Sadly, she passed away in July 2016. The SOAR (Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights) Institute in NYC and the Outlaw Project in Arizona are both named in her honor.
Photo credit: sharmusoutlaw.com