Audacia Ray

Audacia Ray

Audacia Ray is the founder and director of the Red Umbrella Project, where she works to amplify the voices of people involved in the sex industry through media and advocacy trainings. She hosts the monthly storytelling series the Red Umbrella Diaries in NYC, and is always looking for people interested in telling their story at the event. If you're too far away for that, check out the free podcast. Audacia is a former sex worker, and was an editor at $pread magazine from 2005 to 2008.


Photo by ReikHavoc on Flickr

1. Because this is the first time in more than 20 years that the U.S. has hosted the event. The IAC will take place in Washington, DC from July 22 to 27. The conference will feature both formal meetings and presentations (with a registration fee) and a Global Village with cultural and activist events (free admission). Interested in pitching an abstract for the conference or a cultural event for the Global Village? Learn more here. The main deadline for abstracts is February 15.

2. Because although Obama lifted travel restrictions against HIV positive people in 2009, there are still travel bans against sex workers and drug users. This means that people who have sold sex or used drugs, even if doing so is legal where they live, are not allowed to enter the United States.

3.Because the sex workers who won’t be allowed into the U.S. are counting on us to make some noise in DC. There will be an international gathering of sex workers happening at a hub conference in India, and we’ll be able to connect with them digitally before and during the conference to share resources and strategies. [READ MORE]

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I’ve been a sex worker rights activist for going on a decade now, and I’ve lived in New York all that time. My focus in the early years was very local, meaning that I was concerned with what was happening in my own life and the lives of the people I worked with and cared about. I wanted us to stay safe, get rich, and not deal with douchebag clients – you know, all the dreams a girl could have. When I got involved with $pread magazine and became an editor in 2005, I started to pay more attention to what was happening outside of my little bubble. Being responsible for the news section of the magazine meant that I started to learn more about what was happening in sex worker communities not just across the country, but also across the world.

Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work more closely with sex worker rights activists globally, and I gotta say that it’s kind of blown my mind. In the fall of 2009 I spent a week in rural India, a few hours south of Mumbai, with SANGRAM and the sex workers at VAMP. We collaborated on a video about sex worker organizing in India, and it gave me immense respect for the work these activists have been doing. In India, there are sex worker unions, and hundreds of sex workers show up at events and rallies. They are loud, and they are a unified community struggling hard for their rights and getting some traction. During one conversation I had with an older woman about the differences in our activism, she said, “In America, you have everything. You have cameras. You use the internet. But you aren’t fighting the government together the way we are. You need to come together and collectivize. It’s the only way.” It really resonated with me. In a place where sex workers have to walk to one well that serves the neighborhood to get water for their huts, their community is infinitely stronger than ours, probably because there’s less obsession with individuality.

Since that fall, I’ve been seeking out other opportunities to learn more about the global situation of sex workers. This past month, I got the opportunity to go to London for Sex Worker Open University, a nearly weeklong event organized by a collective and held in the Arcola Theatre complex in Hackney. There were many sessions every day, an interesting blend of skill shares by and for sex workers, and presentations about policy and activism work. The event ran from Wednesday, October 12 through Sunday, October 16– you can see the full program here and feel envious – and on the Friday, we had an evening of conversation among activists from all over the world. [READ MORE]

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