Melinda Chateauvert is an activist and historian, located in Washington, DC and New Orleans. Her new book, Sex Workers Unite! A History of the Movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk will be published by Beacon Press in January, 2014. She has taught courses on Community Organizing, the Modern Black Freedom Movement, Sex Work, and Gender & Sexuality in African American Families for over twenty years, and will soon offer classes at the New Orleans Free School. She is a high school drop-out from Iowa who hitchhiked to San Francisco in 1976, back when we still strolled Union Square, the Tenderloin, The Fillmore and Broadway. Years later, she earned a doctorate in U.S. History at the University of Pennsylvania, by way of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and George Washington University. At present, she serves on the board of the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago, and is a past board member of HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive) in D.C. and an advisor for Women With A Vision in New Orleans. [The above photo was taken by Todd Franson.]

Image via NolaWoman

Image via NolaWoman

In May of this year, I talked to Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women With A Vision in New Orleans about her approach to organizing. WWAV scored a significant grassroots legal and political victory in the last year with the NO Justice campaign, which removed hundreds of cis and trans women from Louisiana’s registered felony sexual offender rolls. Deon is a longtime activist in the city of New Orleans, with a history of organizing low-income women of color around reproductive justice, harm reduction, and human rights. 

Margo St. James of COYOTE once said, “It takes two minutes to politicize a hooker.” She said that in 1975, when it seemed that political consciousness was greater and ordinary people talked about politics. But today, when you talk to someone who is not “political,” when you want to recruit someone not involved in political activism, what’s your rap?

This is going to sound really basic but I really try to just lay it all out. I really pretty much try to tell people the truth. Or help them see the truth.

I always tell the story about the group of women I talked to on the North Shore, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. I had been invited by the YWCA to speak to these women. Many of them are retired with lots of income. There were maybe twelve of them in the room and they were trying to figure out how they might want to volunteer. When I came out, I was literally the only black woman in the room. This was pre-Katrina [August 2005]. And they really couldn’t relate to anything I was talking about: rates of HIV, poverty.

You were losing them. [READ MORE]