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Whore Next Door: Pushing for Decriminalization - By siouxsie-q - March 8, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Whore Next Door: Pushing for Decriminalization

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

I first met Kimberlee Cline when I was booked to be a ukulele-playing mermaid entertaining guests at her pirate-themed baby shower at the Center for Sex and Culture. (It’s the city’s community center for alternative sexuality, located in what is now Twitter’s backyard.) I was still new in town and had just begun my career in the sex industry by dancing naked in North Beach — just as Carol Queen, the founder of the CSC, had done in the early ’90s, and Cline herself had done five years prior to my arrival to the city.

For me, that baby shower was the first time I found myself in a wholesome, intergenerational space with other sex workers and got to see how we establish communities as we age and grow our families. (I didn’t quite realize I was serenading an instrumental player in the founding of the Sex Worker Outreach Project, The Desiree Alliance, and December 17: Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.) Being there gave me hope and an enormous sense of belonging: Cline and I have been close ever since. Her son is now five.

We bonded over our mutual quest to improve the rights of sex workers in America by any means necessary, and there’s almost nobody I’d rather go smoke and gossip with in the parking lot at conferences.

Though she works in Sacramento, we usually only see each other in other parts of the world. This summer, after stuffing our faces with New Orleans seafood at Desiree Alliance — the biannual sex-worker conference Cline founded, and which hosts hundreds of “heaux” and their allies — I tipsily told her on the way back to our hotel rooms that I felt like we were getting so close to the decriminalization dream. Five more years and we’d get there for sure, I thought. She laughed at me gently and slung her arm around my neck.

“Oh, honey,” she said, “That’s what I said five years ago.”

Though she’s right to temper my unyielding, Pollyanna optimism, 2017 may indeed be a breaking point in the struggle toward decriminalization of sex work in the United States.

Early in her career, Cline spent a few years dancing in Hawaii while studying to get her bachelor’s degree. Recently, she was contacted by the chair of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii, Tracy Ryan, and asked to come to Honolulu to help mobilize workers to support three — count them, three! — bills currently moving through the state legislature that would improve the rights of sex workers in Hawaii.

Senate Bill 264 would expedite the process of eliminating prostitution convictions from people’s records, and HB 1532 would ensure that sex workers are given a seat at the table when regulating zoning. But House Bill 1533 is the crown jewel of this particular batch of progressive legislation.

Introduced by House Speaker Joe Souki, the bill would amend the Hawaii penal code to decriminalize all acts of sex work between consenting adults. HB 1533 would be a meaningful step toward improving the human rights of a group of historically disenfranchised workers, but it could be the first domino to fall, giving other jurisdictions the gumption to propose similar policies.

All three bills are being reviewed by their respective Judiciary committees and won’t be decided on until January of next year, which means we have about 10 months to educate the Hawaii legislature about how decriminalization will curb sex trafficking as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS. It will also give police officers one fewer excuse to harass queer and trans people, immigrants, and communities of color.

Though you may not be able to fly out to the islands like Cline did last week or meet personally with legislators and sex workers on the ground, supporters on the mainland can still get involved. Call committee members and tell them you stand with leading human rights and public health groups such as Amnesty International and the World Health Organization. Urge Hawaii to prioritize the human rights of sex workers and support HB 1533 — as well as HB 1532 and SB 264. It can and will make a huge difference.

Full decriminalization may take another five years. Maybe it’ll even take until Cline’s son graduates from high school; I don’t know. But the dial is shifting, and if we come together and keep pushing, maybe we can make that first domino fall. And then, the sky’s the limit.