Progressives Should Lead The Political Fight For Sex Worker Rights

This is an introductory post about this topic but sex work and policies regulating sex work are actually one of the most important political issues in the world to me. I’ve made videos about this, tweets about it, and written about it in the past. In 2019 it’s going to be a key focus of mine so if you follow me anywhere expect to learn a lot about this, or at least if you already know more than I do hear about it a lot more than you did previously.

This is going to start off with a bold declaration: during 2019 legislation surrounding sex work is going to become a key political issue. In 2018 for a variety of reasons and in a wild variety of different contexts sex work and sex workers became the subject of massive amount of attention, Julia Salazar running on a platform that explicitly included support for sex workers, to legislation like Fosta/Sesta and the horrifying impact it’s had on sex workers. This led to a number of organizations in support of sex workers and to many different community activists and organizers in sex work organizing voters in what appears to be numbers that have never been seen before relative to this community, and forming a small but vocal voting bloc that will only grow in 2019.

In 2019, with the House of Representatives becoming a whole lot more Democratic there are new chances for Democrats to recognize the complexity of sex work and to set aside any simplistic moral positioning they have on this issue. In 2019 one of the first objectives of Democrats in general and Progressives especially should be to connect with those who’ve historically been kept from talking to people in power, and one of the first groups that should be approached are sex workers. That said, due to the Senate being the way it is, the best places for positive reforms that take into account the needs of sex workers and the insights of sex workers will be the local and state level legislative chambers. It is there where the fight for positive reforms regarding sex work will take place.

It’s time Progressives stand up to mainstream stigma and fight for a community that sure as heck could use legislative and political support: sex workers. This absolutely includes people who plan on running for office, and it’s perfectly possible for someone to openly support the need to grant sex workers the same sort of rights as other workers as Julia Salazar in New York proved by winning in a primary in September and thus winning a seat on the New York state Senate since she didn’t face a Republican opponent. It’s easy to say that her campaign was unique, and it was, but that doesn’t mean that no one else can run on a platform that explicitly includes support for sex workers, because that’s not true. If candidates openly seek out the counsel of sex workers and do not make a big deal of their support for sex workers, while unapologetically advocating for the community they can and will win races.

As an unapologetic progressive and a proud Democrat who understands at least some of the complexities related to sex work I know that our current approach as a country is terrifyingly dangerous to sex workers and I recognize that many in the media are hesitant to state this explicitly. So it falls to those of us who care enough about this issue to do the research and to challenge fact-less beliefs and approaches to sex work that routinely endanger the lives of sex workers.

So what can Progressives do about this?

1: We can unapologetically state that we support sex workers. We can actually prove this by looking to connect with organizations that support sex workers such as the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, the International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture, and Education, and more.

2: We can learn from individuals like state-senator elect Julia Salazar, Lola Balcon, Kate D’Adamo, and others in a variety of positions who go out of their way to support the movement to ensure that sex workers have the same regulatory protections as other workers and that sex work is no longer treated as if it’s at worst criminal and at best a sign of a moral defect.

3: We can recognize that though some bills like Fosta/Sesta come from a place of good intentions they have had a dangerous impact on the lives of sex workers, and make it harder for sex workers to screen clients in advance which endangers them. We can also call for a repeal of Fosta/Sesta and seek instead to work to introduce bills that protect sex workers such as decriminalization bills and bills that create opportunities for sex workers to teach policymakers about their own lives (such as by calling for days of lobbying or creating commissions that work directly with policymakers as to inform them about the complexities of sex work), instead of continuing our past, very dangerous tradition of only listening to anti-sex worker groups who at best don’t care about the complex realities of sex work and at worst actively want to “save” sex workers because they believe all sex workers are victims in need of saving and not independent people who are capable of enjoying their job when it’s done as safely as possible.

Support sex workers. Be unapologetic in your support for sex workers, and work with them to support their existing platforms as well as create new ones that reach new audiences and can help dismantle reductive and almost always incorrect conceptions about sex work and the individuals who make up the sex work industry. Treat them as individuals and respect their experiences and perspectives.

I’ve got a lot to say about this, and I will in time. I just wanted to introduce readers to this topic and give readers an opportunity to learn a bit about my perspective here and give ya’ll a chance to follow groups and individuals you might not have heard of before especially if this isn’t a key issue for you.