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The Whore Next Door: Decriminalize! - By - September 30, 2015 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

The Whore Next Door: Decriminalize!

For nearly three years, I have devoted my career to advocating for the rights of those who work in the adult entertainment industry. Whether sex workers arrive at their profession by choice, circumstance, or even by force, they deserve access to justice without fear of harassment or imprisonment.

Following the decision by Amnesty International, along with several other human rights and LGBT organizations, to support the decriminalization of sex work, it feels like the time is right to get some real traction in the fight.

Although there are many organizations that advocate and address the needs of sex workers in this country, few focus primarily on shifting public opinion. Enter the Red Umbrella Policy Project, a 501(c)(4) lobbying organization founded two weeks ago by me and two fellow sex workers, Kimberlee Cline and Sam Solo.

Cline, who was instrumental in the founding of the Sex Worker Outreach Project 12 years ago, was also anxious to harness the momentum of this moment. I hosted a Red Umbrella launch party last Wednesday evening in the basement of the Armory Club, an event which we did not announce on social media, only extending invitations to stategic partners positioned to support the cause. But the turnout was tremendous and the evening felt electric (and not just because visionary kink director FiveStar provided a live bondage show complete with electricity play to round out the end of the evening. It was the week of Folsom, after all.) Kink BnB, an emerging sex-positive startup, stepped up to be our first donor, and folks from the worlds of harm reduction and anti-trafficking showed up to rally for the cause, enjoying cocktails, impassioned debate, and just a little bit of bondage.

Speaking to this audience of more than 50 porn stars, clients, and allies, Cline said, “With new public support from human rights organizations, now is the time for sex workers to launch a campaign that will be impossible to ignore.”

As we approach another election year, with the people of California set to weigh in on ballot measures such as Michael Weinstein's misguided and fiscally irresponsible Condoms in Pornographic Films Initiative, educating lawmakers and voters about the rights and needs of sex workers is crucial.

But it won't be easy. Sex worker stigma is still alive and well, even in San Francisco.

In 2011, when Saint James Infirmary, the much-loved, peer-based occupational health and safety clinic for sex workers and their families, launched the super wholesome “Someone You Know is a Sex Worker” media campaign featuring the faces of local sex workers and their allies, they were denied billboard rental space from both Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor — the latter of which said, “sex worker [is] not a family-friendly term.”

But that was before Amnesty, Lambda Legal, the Transgender Law Center, and a list of organizations that is sure to keep growing declared that the human rights of sex workers are a priority for them, and that the decriminalization of prostitution is a critical step in the fight to address forms of exploitation like trafficking.

I've advocated for the rights of sex workers on my podcast, in the mainstream media, and right here in SF Weekly. Now it's time to take it national. I want to talk to people who don't yet agree with me. I want to shake hands with policymakers and urge them to prioritize the rights of my community.

Already we have so many more allies than ever before, and with the support of established public health organizations like the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, I think we stand a chance of changing people's minds about sex work in the same way their minds have been changed about LGBT issues and cannabis over the past decade.

The American people are finally ready to hear that our voices matter, and that criminalizing sex work is just another way to criminalize those who are already marginalized.

Sex workers have patiently waited for too long to be afforded the right to access justice, and now it's time to say enough is enough. Too many people have suffered. Too many lives have been lost.

We can't afford to waste this moment. Sex workers are part of this nation, and it is high time we started being treated as such.