November 17, 2022
Carol Leigh was a force for good in this world — joyful, kind, welcoming, compassionate, caring, brilliant, and loving. Her memory and her legacy will remain an eternal force for good.
For those who knew Carol, it is impossible to think of her without smiling, even as we mourn this tremendous personal and collective loss of a true visionary and heroine.
I had the honor of meeting Carol while still in law school — it was the fall of 2005 and we were both part of a small contingent of sex workers’ rights attendees at the second annual Toledo International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference. It has been said that you should never meet your heroes — but with Carol, it was the opposite. I had idolized her work, having read Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot and followed her Sex Worker Film and Art Show from afar. I also knew that she had famously coined the term “sex work,” changing the narrative history of the fight for sex workers’ rights forever.
Yes, she was brilliant and accomplished and did so much for the movement; but it was her absolute warmth and humility and kindness that eclipsed all. I have never met anyone like her — just pure love and acceptance. Being with her was like being embraced in a long warm consensual hug. You felt kinder and more loving in her presence — her love was infectious and other-worldly.
Over the next 17 years, I had the honor of connecting with her many times at sex workers’ rights summits across the country and on the phone, and she never wavered in her undying support and enthusiasm for fellow advocates. If there was in-fighting, she fought harder for unification; if there was a strategy disagreement, she turned to those who were the most impacted to figure out the best course of action; and if someone was struggling with how to do something, she immediately offered guidance and support.
Carol was — and will remain — a mother figure for the sex workers’ rights movement.
When we find ourselves lost or in conflict with other advocates or searching for an answer, we only have to think “What would Carol do?” and the answer will come because it will be infused with pure love. May her memory be a blessing and a revolution.
Carol may not have seen decriminalization of prostitution in her lifetime, but she sure as hell laid the groundwork for all of us who continue to fight in her name and her spirit. None of us who do this work would be here without her trailblazing the path — in the loving, fun, and hilarious way that only she could!
Written by Melissa Broudo