May 10, 2022
The Vermont Senate voted to pass Burlington’s charter change, striking harmful language from the city charter. In March, 69% of Burlington residents voted to support equity, safety, and dignity by opting to remove the archaic language from the charter, which mandates that peace officers “restrain and suppress houses of ill fame and disorderly houses, and punish common prostitutes and persons consorting therewith.”
The charter change was then approved by both chambers of the state legislature. It was passed by a vote of 105 to 33 in the House and on a unanimous voice vote in the Senate. The bill now heads to the governor to be signed into law.
Burlington voters recognize that this language is not only outdated and dehumanizing but also perpetuates stigma and discrimination against sex workers, harming the health and safety of those who participate in consensual adult sex work — and the health and safety of the community more broadly.
Striking this language from the charter will not decriminalize sex work in Burlington. State law criminalizing commercial sex still applies within the city. City Attorney Dan Richardson testified that the language change will have little bearing on the way that sex work is handled in Burlington. His office does not currently prosecute sex work because they recognize the harmful impact of criminalization on public health and safety. Rather, the charter change signals a critical shift away from the historic marginalization and stigmatization that endanger sex workers.
“Removing this discriminatory language from the city charter is a critical and positive step for consensual adult sex workers and everyone who cares about their communities. It also shows that voters can separate consensual adult sex work from the grotesque crime of human trafficking,” said Henri Bynx, co-founder of The Ishtar Collective, Vermont’s only organization run by and for sex workers and survivors of exploitation or trafficking. “We are deeply touched and encouraged to no longer be further marginalized by punitive language in Burlington’s city charter,” they continued.
Read Bynx’s compelling op ed on the significance of the referendum here: Henri June Bynx: Amending Burlington charter is a big first step