Denial of Service: Sex Workers Confront Dr. Eric Goosby and Protest the Anti-Prostitution Pledge

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) was a vocal and visible presence at the 2010 International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Vienna, Austria this year. NSWP members challenged both policy makers and funding agencies to break with the status quo, which perpetuates institutional violence and violation of sex worker’s human rights that lead to a higher rates of HIV infection and death. Read the Global Network post “Denial of Service” for more.

On Tuesday, July 20th, NSWP organized sex workers and allies to disrupt a speech by United States Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. Eric Goosby to demand justice for sex workers harmed by PEPFAR’s discriminatory anti-prostitution loyalty oath.

I highly recommend listening to Macklean Kyomya (WONETHA-Uganda) minutes 1:00 and on.

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Will at Paradigm Shift: “Sex Work and Human Rights: Feminist Advocacy Strategies”

From Paradigm Shift‘s blog, addressing the question of “What would an ideal world for sex workers look like?” Thank you to Melissa Gira Grant for moderating.

Will Rockwell is a youth advocate and editor of $pread magazine:

’Ideally’ is such a huge question, and I like how Audacia framed [her answer] in terms of how the sex industry would necessarily have to be a part of larger structural changes in the world around economic, racial, and gender justice.

In addition, we need to incorporate a youth perspective into the vision too, not to assume that every young person is sexually exploited, but that perhaps it’s a more complicated story and until there are those options […] to choose more empowering paths or different paths as opposed to the limited choices many of us who started young were left with, which is to say a ‘choice among limited choices.’ Still, every choice under post-industrial capitalism is a choice among limited choices, and those options would have to include, in this ‘utopian’ universe, a place to sleep, regular pay, non-minimum wage job, an end to racist, sexist, and transphobic occupational discrimination.

Definitely, I think a practical step to take right now is to incorporate more into the movement a vision of what we’re doing to help young people who work, too, and to address their self-determined needs, whether it is improved working conditions, an end to criminalization, or a safe exit from the industry.

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Comment: Feminist Review Post on The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal

Comment on the Feminist Review Post on The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal, a newly released translation of Réal’s work log and interviews with journalist Jean-Luc Hennig, translated by Ariana Reines.

The Little Black Book is just what the title says: a compendium of Réal’s experiences with her clients. What Réal accomplished in choosing to compile her work log before her death (I know the word “choice” in this case disturbs you) is to showcase the “humanist science” she practiced. The Little Black Book, thankfully without the typically tedious frills and diatribes of political ideology, is a testament to Réal’s immense capability, her meticulous and inspiring attention, the lonely commitment of our profession: “We know them like the back of our hand. As soon as they get in the door, it’s like we’d made them ourselves.”

Your review bemoans the lack of “arguments about prostitution,” but have you considered that Réal’s whole life was an argument? That every client was a case in point? Or that she was tired of fighting so-called feminists demanding a rebuttal? You say “who cares about the client wanting a finger up his ass,” but who cares about your silly, uninformed, and uncomplicated judgments? As if you can simply allude to the complexities of the sex industry, voice your amorphous “support for sex workers,” and call it a day. Réal took notes on her clients in order to document their incredible and secret idiosyncrasies, to become a better and more skilled worker, to keep a record for her own safety, and to provide a unique and lasting testament to the intricacies, and even mundanities, of working in the sex trade. In the future, please consider asking a sex worker to review a book documenting their profession. With that choice, the Review (which is a wonderful resource), would avoid mistakes like this in the future.

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Will at $pread: “Vancouver’s Mobile Access Project Van Wins Back Funding”

For the print version of this article, go to $pread‘s website and order Issue 5.2.

After signalling complete fiscal fallout in June, Vancouver’s Mobile Access Project (MAP) van has returned for a three-year tour of duty. The WISH Drop-In Centre Society, which operates the MAP van in partnership with the Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE) Society, has successfully negotiated funding with the provincial government of British Columbia and the Vancouver Agreement, an urban development initiative.

After months of organizing rallies and vigils, an extensive online petition, and significant media coverage, MAP will be back on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside thanks in no small part to the government of British Columbia. But if you ask the Executive Director of the WISH Society, Kate Gibson, politics had nothing to do with it: “We had a provincial election right before we had to pull the van off the road, but didn’t use this to contribute to the rhetoric of various political parties. This is not a political issue, it is a social issue.” Instead of taking sides in City Council, Vancouver activists approached the provincial government as a nonpartisan and community group advocating for an essential social service.

The MAP van provides services seven days a week from late night to early morning to women working in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Estimates place MAP’s numbers served at 1,400 connections each month. Vans are staffed by a driver, support worker, and peer-support worker. According to the WISH Drop-In Centre’s website, MAP provides refreshments, job supplies including condoms, clean needles, information on emergency services and shelter contacts, and information on bad dates or predators in the Vancouver area. Unfortunately, while activists rallied the troops to fight for the community service, the government failed to respond to pressure soon enough. MAP was still out of commission when Lisa Arlene Kireche, a sex worker who utilized the van and WISH’s drop-in services, was found murdered in Vancouver’s Fraser River. “Timing is everything and we were not there for Lisa,” says Kate Gibson.

Now that the British Columbia’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General—a provincial authority encompassing a range of public services from road management to law enforcement—is a major party to the funding agreement, the hope is that MAP will have the funding it needs to keep on the road for years to come. Violent tragedies like Kireche’s murder can never be fully eliminated when society looks on with a blind eye, but outreach projects like MAP can give sex workers the edge to fight back.

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Will at Research for Sex Work 11

Check out the new issue of Research for Sex Work, a journal of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). I was the Associate Editor for this issue. Click through the picture to reach the site, complete with a free .pdf of the issue.

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Will at TheRumpus.net: “Capitol Gains: Craig Seymour on Stripping in ’90s DC and the Death of Public Sex Venues”

Check out my interview with Craig Seymour, republished on TheRumpus.net. Click the image for the link.

$pread’s Will Rockwell takes a stroll with Craig Seymour in New York’s Lower East Side to get the dish on the debut of Seymour’s recently released memoir, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. Seymour set out to document the gay stripper scene of America’s capital in the nineties and recount his life as a stripper boy, “if not for sale, then at least for controlled-access rental.” This interview traces Seymour’s life and workaday skills from nudie bars like Secrets, Wet, and La Cage to reporting for The Washington Post and tackling an editorship at VIBE Magazine. In the midst of his nineties nostalgia, Seymour finds the time to comment on the mounting “Pink Scare” in the States, as well as D.C.’s $400 million development of the District’s Southeast quarter which stamped out Seymour’s former workplaces.

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The Pink Scare, Round Two

Landing on the airstrip at La Guardia, back from Chicago’s Desiree Alliance conference, I overheard one classic and Bloombergian welcome back to New York: the NYPD staged a violent“prostitution” bust at Lou’s, also known as the Hot Lap Dance Club, a private loft club in Midtown Manhattan, and arrested another handful of New York’s sex workers.

It’s now been dubbed the Midtown “Lap-Dance ‘Bordello,” according to one of many articles circulated by the New York Post, one of Murdoch’s yellow rags that will stop at nothing to expose the Big Apple’s sex workers, from the escort “Kristen” of gubernatorial fame to the pro-dommes prosecuted under the recent Dungeon Alley busts. While I’d love to dwell on the inaccuracies of these charges – as one worker and activist at Lou’s put it to us at SWANK, “98% of what they said in those articles was trumped up media hype” – I think it’s equally important to review the past year’s busts for the record, at least those made public

(First, a side note: we can look forward to the Sex Workers Project’s report on raids, maybe they can shed light and policy advice on the matter in the fall).

The raids began this year, to my knowledge, with Scores West in late January, then hit the escort agency Emperor’s Club VIP in March along with a few others related to then-Governor Spitzer. Then came Dungeon Alley’s sordid back-and-forth in April, followed by Pacha, Marquee and Splash on “drug-related” charges in June (more on the connections between “anti-gay” and “anti-sex worker” later), while the mayoral candidate Eric Gioia’s (D-Queens) called for increased policing on Craigslist.com. Now it’s Lou’s and, always, the mounting casualties from both “street sweeps” and the stepped-up prosecution of e-stings on Eros and Craigslist.

By April, Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK) meant it when we declared the current state of affairs “The Pink Scare.”

It’s not just Pink because of the sex industry, either, with bathhouses and sex clubs that cater to us “Men who have Sex with Men” (MSM) dropping like RAID-sprayed flies. As I mentioned earlier, Pacha and Marquee, two straight clubs with occasional gay-themed events when it proves lucrative, were raided during Pride weekend in July, while the infamous Splash barely escaped closure as police piled in. The anti-gay “drug” raids of this year are comparable to the NYPD narcotics raids of 2006, when Avalon, Deep, Speed, Spirit, Splash, Steel Gym, and View Bar were all busted, on drug charges which inevitably point to alleged prostitution-related offenses.

This relates to another point some might not pick up, besides the veiled, bordering on discursive connection between the so-called immoralities of sex work of any kind and same-sex love, that people pull tricks in gay bars, too. It’s a historic connection, factoring into arrests in New York since the raid on the Ariston bathhouse in 1903. Believe it or not, not all men in the bathhouses, or among gay-identified culture in general, are gay. Some are straight-identified hustlers.

To get back to the Scare and round off the all-too-incomplete list of raids and closures, recently it’s been rumored by the Gay City News that bathhouses such as the West Side Club would be forced to shut down by the Health Department, citing drug use, inflated estimates around MRSA, prostitution, and the ol’ “vectors of disease” line.

There is some good news, however. The raids, as old a political institution in New York and as violent as those during the age of AIDS, are finally being challenged by an initiative put forward by the Commercial Sex Venues Coalition. It would revise the 1985 ban on oral, anal and vaginal sex to target solely unprotected sex, but many doubt its success.

I’m afraid the days of seedy New York nightlife are over, ushering in an age of whitewashed Chelsea Piers, industrial straight clubs, and the inevitable Disneyfication of much more than Times Square, a restructuring that gets at the very heart of what some of us have lovingly called our home in New York.

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