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Whore Next Door: America Comes Around - By - February 24, 2016 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Whore Next Door: America Comes Around

Although I attended labor rights demonstrations with my parents as a youngster, I truly began my own career in activism as a founding member of my high school's first Gay-Straight Alliance.

I served two terms as president and championed the campaign of selling Klondike bars — pun definitely intended — at lunch, so the popular kids would associate queers with ice cream, and possibly harass us less. (For the record, it worked.)

It seems silly now, but at the time the stakes felt incredibly high. Many schools wouldn't even allow GSAs on campus, and there were very few of us brave enough to be out. Marriage equality isn't the end-all, be-all of LGBT issues, but it all seemed so impossible back then when we had to bribe our peers with sugar to accept us.

Seeing how far the LGBT movement has come within just the short span of my own activism gives me so much hope the future of the sex workers' rights movement, which has gotten to celebrate some small but meaningful victories already in 2016.

On Feb. 12, the Department of Justice announced all but one of the employees arrested when Department of Homeland Security raided the Manhattan offices of advertising platform Rentboy last August are no longer facing criminal charges.

Tens of thousands of men all over the world were able to independently advertise on Rentboy, allowing workers valuable time and space to negotiate rates and safety before doing business with their clients — an important asset in countries like the United States, where sex work is still criminalized, and where seeking police intervention in the event of an emergency can be complicated and often dangerous. CEO Jeffrey Hurant, who founded the company in 1997 and made it the first website of its kind, was indicted in late January on one count of violating the Travel Act and two counts of money laundering. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was released on a $350,000 bond.

“One left,” said gay activist Bill Dobbs when he announced the dismissal of charges for the six other employees. (It was Dobbs who organized protests following the initial arrests.) “Let's hope the U.S. Attorney ends this much-criticized case by dismissing charges against the remaining defendant.”

Here in the Bay, meanwhile, gay, straight, amateur, fetish, and even webcam porn performers have united with producers and public health advocates to oppose a set of proposed regulations that would have required dental dams for oral sex — as well as eye protection for facials in all adult films in California.

Porn performers feared the regulations, which came with the threat of heavy fines for noncompliance, would drive the industry underground and put workers and the public at risk.

Currently, the adult industry self-regulates with a strict testing protocol — along with optional condom usage — resulting in zero transmissions on testing-compliant sets in more than a decade. Some studios, like Wicked Pictures, are condom-only, but even producers and models who make only porn with condoms, such as multi-award winning contract star Jessica Drake, joined more than 100 adult industry pros who showed up for public comment at Cal/OSHA's meeting in Oakland.

After four hours of testimonies, two members of Cal/OSHA's board were swayed and voted nay. Nothing more was needed to kill the proposal.

The auditorium erupted in cheers, applause, and tearful hugs, as the adult industry and its allies celebrated the decision, expressing immense gratitude and relief that a governing body had listened. The victory is tentative, however, as Californians will be faced with a statewide ballot initiative mandating similar protocols this November.

But the most exciting piece of sex worker rights news in America comes from the state of New Hampshire, which has recently introduced House Bill 1614, which would decriminalize prostitution and recategorize the solicitation of a minor through force or intimidation as a Class B felony.

Yes, that's right, folks. Although it's yet to receive much press, America's first decriminalization bill is a reality (although not yet law). The Sex Workers Outreach Project is encouraging allies and supporters to contact the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and urge them to support HB 1614. It will be officially out of committee by March 3 — so the clock is ticking.

It feels like the tide is truly turning in this country. People are finally starting to listen to the voices of sex workers and acknowledge their human rights.

There's still so much work to do, but the dream of sex workers living without fear of criminalization doesn't seem as distant as it once did.