Since 2003, people around the world have been observing the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The event, founded by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP-USA), is observed every 17 December.
‘Violent crimes against sex workers go underreported, unaddressed and unpunished. There really are people who don’t care when prostitutes are victims of hate crimes, beaten, raped, and murdered. No matter what you think about sex workers and the politics surrounding them, sex workers are a part of our neighborhoods, communities and families,’ Dr. Sprinkle wrote in a public letter on the event’s website.
According to the site, about 23% of LGBTI murder victims on the 2012 Anti-Violence Project report were killed while engaging in sex work.
In 2015, 12 trans and gender nonconforming people who engaged in sex work were killed in the US.
‘The heart of the demand for LGBT rights is the idea that all people should be granted autonomy over their lives and bodies, that anyone should be allowed to sleep with who they choose and that it only concerns the people in the relationship and not the government or bigots,’ writes Stephanie Farnsworth for the Huffington Post. ‘The very same idea is at the core of the fight for sex workers. Why should they not be granted the same freedom? Why should they not be allowed to have sex with who they choose?’
Sex work and the LGBTI community
‘Sex work and LGBT rights battles are about the liberation of our bodies. It is simply hypocritical for LGBT activists to fight for bodily autonomy but deny it to sex workers, and given the huge numbers of people within the community who engage in sex work it also throws a lot of LGBT people under the bus,’ Farnsworth continues.
‘LGBT sex workers have been at the forefront of movements for LGBT equality, but are not always recognized,’ the National LGBT Bar Association states.
‘LGBT youth comprise 40% of the runaway and homeless youth population and are therefore often in circumstances where sex work is the only option for survival. Male youth and adults who may not identify as gay or bisexual engage in commercial sex with men, and may be especially invisible in policy debates. And many in law enforcement create approaches that punish sex workers for trying to protect themselves against HIV – for example, using condoms as evidence that an arrestee engages in sex work.’
‘Within sex work, LGBT people are also more vulnerable to violence. One study found that attacks against trans sex workers are nearly 2.5 times as likely to involve a gun than attacks on other sex workers. In 2012, approximately one fourth of reported anti-LGBT homicides were against sex workers. A new study about HIV rates in the transgender community found that among sex workers, trans women are nine times likelier to have HIV than their cisgender counterparts,’ writes Zack Ford for ThinkProgress.
‘Many of the reports that document these statistics call for the decriminalization of sex work, decrying laws against prostitution as obstacles to supporting the people most mistreated in the sex trades. For example, that new study about HIV and transgender people, commissioned by the World Health Organization, notes, “Sex work is a significant source of income for many transgender women around the world, given their exclusion from other means of income generation. In settings where sex work is illegal, transgender sex workers often bear the brunt of police brutality and, when complaints against police brutality are lodged, they are often ignored.”’
In their own words
GSN spoke with a sex worker about how sex workers’ rights and LGBTI rights go hand in hand.
‘The LGBTQ community has always been filled with sex workers. Black and brown trans sex workers spurred the rest of the community into action at Stonewall, after all,’ says Kitty Stryker, a 33-year-old from Oakland, California.
Stryker cites the book Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg as a text that discusses the lives of lesbian sex workers and their partners.
‘But the LGBTQ community has tended to push their sex worker family aside for legitimization in the eyes of a patriarchal, white capitalist society,’ Stryker explains.
‘We need to remember our history and take care of our own, including and especially the sex workers who have always been at the front lines of our fight for justice.’