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Black Trans Sex Worker Leaders Reflect On December 17th

For this International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, Tits and Sass asked two Black trans sex worker leaders what the sex workers’ rights movement should be doing in the face of the epidemic of violence against sex working trans women of color. 

Ceyenne Doroshow is an activist role model in the trans sex worker community. She has been mentored by Miss Major and the late artist and advocate Mother Flawless Sabrina considered her a daughter. She’s worked with Red Umbrella Project and appeared in the documentary Red Umbrella Diaries, and has written a cookbook/memoir. She now works for the organization she founded, GLITS (Gays and Lesbians In Transgender Society), helping trans women seeking asylum, fleeing domestic violence, or being released from incarceration.

With so many deaths that have come over the years, the numbers that we’re counting doesn’t match the work, the jobs [available]. If you don’t want sex workers doing the work, sweetie, employ them! Employ them, have a solution!

In New York City, just a couple of weeks ago—I think last week—the police raided, ICE probably, raided a brothel. A young woman threw herself out of a window to evade probably going back to her country. Is this systematic? Is this what the government wants?

On trans sex workers of color getting the brunt of violence against sex workers

Because we basically are street-based, basically because we have no backing.

Even if you look at the stories of these deaths [of trans sex working women of color] in any newspaper article, especially Black trans women, they get misgendered. So even in their death, they’re robbed of dignity. Why, because they’re a sex worker?

And if you read half the reports from the reporters that report these stories, it kinda says that the reason why [they died] is because of their “lifestyle.” You don’t know what their lifestyle is other than sex work! They could have very ordinary lives. They could actually be working minimum wage jobs that don’t give them sustainable living.

On what individual sex working readers of Tits and Sass and sex workers’ rights organizations can do to help protect sex working trans women of color from violence:

Form a buddy system, form a buddy system and a plan for girls not go out there by theirselves—that way, there is a system of reporting. So we can take care of ourselves as a community. We are a community that deserves dignity and protection.

We need to be a part of the decrim laws! We need to be a part of making sure that these people that murder people are caught and prosecuted—the same way they would do us for sex work!

We need to be a part of making sure that these people that murder people are caught and prosecuted.

On the sex workers’ rights community talking about sex working trans women of color when they die but not valuing trans sex working women of color while they’re alive:

That’s often, that’s often, that’s often [what happens]. Value the lives of the people who are living, then you’ll have less lives to value when they’re dead. Don’t wait until they die to do a December 17th—be a part of the process.

So, forming alliance to protect each other! It’s easy for a cisgender sex work [activist] agency to say, “Oh, well, we give money to trans women”, but you’re not a part of the process where you’re helping create a sustainable safe life for them. [Saying that is] sort of like, “I did my quota,” “well, I gave [to[ them”—instead, find out who we are! That’s often the case, where people are willing to say, “oh, we be putting out five percent,” and they’re not a part of “oh, we saved a life,” or “we actually helped this young woman, who was homeless, who’s on the street, who’s being attacked or beat up because she’s homeless and on the street”—be a part of the advocacy, be a part of trying to solve the problem!

Today we don’t have adequate places for trans sex workers to live, to reside. And this is on a global level. It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. And in some countries, they’d just rather kill them and say it’s ok. The girls that I’ve gotten over from Africa and from other countries [in other regions] have basically escaped by the hair of their teeth from being murdered. 

Ava Talley is a writing enthusiast, sex worker, operations director for the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, and PrEP outreach worker for the National Black Leadership Coalition on AIDS. She currently resides in New York City.

The sex workers’ rights movement needs to be more visible to TWOC in the trade.

Direct outreach is needed because, all too often, I find that TWOC are not aware of the work the sex workers’ rights movement is doing, even if on their behalf. Most TWOC are first introduced [to activism] through transgender advocacy efforts,  which stress “real” work over “sex” work. TWOC often have the perception that they cannot work due to blatant employment discrimination. So, many are survivalists and don’t recognize sex work as an empowering choice. That is often the divide.

I feel that trans community leaders are often implicit in furthering the shame and stigma attached to sex work because they have internalized shame.

It starts with [educating]  transgender community leaders on the sex work is work narrative. I feel that trans community leaders are often implicit in furthering the shame and stigma attached to sex work because they have internalized shame. I remember a trans community leader offering me a job with an organization she was about to launch and [she] said [to me], “You don’t have to do sex work anymore.” I was like, “Thanks, but I am fine. I’d be happy to work with you but I don’t need saving.” Then later, she turns around and asks me about online sex work and ways she could brand to reach a higher level of clientele…and she isn’t the only [one]. So many trans community leaders won’t admit to being sex workers. Even though we all know advocacy often equals ramen. Why?

“86 the Violence” performance celebrates UPR Recommendation 86

We agree that no one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution, as this recommendation suggests.

The above language, derived from Recommendation 86 of the U.N.’s Universal Periodic Review is now an official part of U.S. human rights policy thanks to the efforts of hundreds of activist groups. It’s a huge, heartening step towards affirming the rights of sex workers.  While Tits and Sass is not an activist blog, one of the reasons this site exists is because there is a need to publicly state that people who accept payment to have sex, talk dirty, have sex on camera, strip, masturbate in front of a webcam, provide sensual touch, or pose for adult photos are not disposable and are not a special class of people who are fair game for violence and crime because of what they do for money.

Activist Spotlight: BARE on the Mass Closure of Strip Clubs in New Orleans

via BARE’s Instagram

An unholy mix of gentrification and trafficking hysteria created the perfect political climate to allow law enforcement to shutter several New Orleans strip clubs, leaving scores of dancers unemployed. The Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers rapidly sprung into action; they disrupted the mayor’s press conference and organized the Unemployment March the following night, which drew national attention. I talked to them about the situation in NOLA, their strategy, and their future plans.

So, to start, what is BARE? How long has BARE existed and what kind of activism does BARE do?

Lindsey: BARE is the Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers. We are an organization run by strippers, for strippers. I started coming to meetings a few months ago, but some of our members have been at this since the Trick or Treat raids of 2015. What we do first and foremost is provide a voice that’s been previously underexposed during the city’s assault on strip clubs: the voice of actual strippers. We’re attempting to work with city officials to influence policies and decisions that affect us. Outside of that, we really just want to foster community among dancers and show the people who don’t understand us that we are valuable members of the New Orleans community. During our first ever charity tip drive, participating dancers donated all of their tips from a Friday night’s work to a women’s shelter. Strippers literally paid that shelter’s rent for six months!

Lyn Archer: I arrived in New Orleans after being laid off from two seasonal jobs in a row, one in secretarial work and one in hospitality. I was on unemployment and got a job cocktail-waitressing at a Larry Flynt drag club. One night, a few weeks before Christmas, the club closed without notice and let everyone go. That’s when I saw how quickly fortunes could reverse on Bourbon Street and how little protection there is for workers. My first week on Bourbon, I was the likely the only stripper that didn’t realize that Operation Trick or Treat had just happened. I entered a work environment where strippers were scared, mgmt was over-vigilant, and customers were scarce. Everyone seemed confused about “the rules.” I later learned that’s because what’s written into the city code about “lewd and lascivious conduct” is different than state law and different than federal law. But these supposed “anti-trafficking” efforts are a collaboration of badges. Undercover agents from many offices move through the clubs. I began researching and writing on this for my column in Antigravity, called “Light Work.” I began to see how a feedback loop between press, law enforcement, self-styled “anti-trafficking” groups and civic policymakers can cause so much destruction for people they haven’t even considered. The club I started at was the first to close. The club was inside a building that was the house Confederate president Jefferson Davis lived in. The house I live in was the home of a Confederate general. We are working against, while inside-of, unfolding histories that are deeply, deeply violent. The more I learn about the history of sex worker resistance in New Orleans, the more I know this fight is lifetimes old and will replicate itself if we do not end it entirely.

For Their Own Good: SWOP-Phoenix’s Campaign Against Diversion Intiatives

Monica Jones with other SWOP-Phoenix members (Photo by Peggy Plews, courtesy of SWOP-Phoenix)
Monica Jones with other SWOP-Phoenix members (Photo by Peggy Plews, courtesy of SWOP-Phoenix)

SWOP-Phoenix, a new branch of national sex workers’ rights organization Sex Workers Outreach Project, mounted a campaign this year against the Project ROSE (Reaching Out To The Sexually Exploited) Prostitution Diversion Initiative, in which Phoenix police and students from the Arizona State University School of Social Work team up twice a year to arrest local sex workers who then face criminal charges or a six-month diversion program. After SWOP-Phoenix protested against Project ROSE in May, one of the protest participants was picked up by an undercover officer the following night and taken to the Project ROSE site. The SWOP member, Monica Jones, an accomplished activist and a student who takes courses at the ASU School of Social Work herself, was deemed ineligible for diversion, and now faces up to six months in jail. Fellow Phoenix activists started an indiegogo fundraiser for Jones’ legal defense. I interviewed SWOP-Phoenix member Jaclyn Moskal-Dairman over the course of a week. The following is modified from the Google doc shared between us as an outgrowth of an email interview.

One of your members, Monica Jones, was arrested for “manifestation of prostitution” after participating in the protests against Project Rose. Jones was in the diversion program before, and spoke eloquently about her experience being mistreated there as a trans woman and a student sex worker. Can you tell me more about her case?

We believe Monica was targeted by the Phoenix police department. The evening after she spoke at the protest she was walking to a bar in her neighborhood. She accepted a ride from what turned out to be an undercover cop. He began to solicit her and she warned him he that he should be careful because of the Project ROSE stings that were going on that evening. He kept propositioning her and she asked to be let out of his vehicle. He did not let her out and actually changed lanes so she couldn’t exit the car. She was frightened and thought she was being kidnapped (which she was). She asked him if he was a cop, because she didn’t want to assault an officer. They were pulled over for a “routine traffic stop” and she was placed under arrest for the intent to manifest prostitution.

What was SWOP-Phoenix’s response when you first heard about Project ROSE? What would you say to those who claim that diversion is at least an improvement over wholesale incarceration?

When I heard about Project ROSE through an activist friend I set out to interview the professor at the ASU School of Social Work who spearheaded the initiative, Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz. As a researcher, I tried my best to go into the interview unbiased until I had all of the details. Upon completing the interview I confronted Dr. Roe-Sepowitz about what I felt was wrong with Project ROSE, particularly the inherent contradiction of fighting coercion with coercion. Dr. Roe-Sepowitz explained that the initiative is completely police-driven. The School of Social Work has community organizations meet the apprehended community members at the initiative’s command post at Bethany Bible Church. The arrestees are met with prosecutors, as well as “tour guides,” who are ex-sex workers, and are told that they can have access to hygiene products, a hot meal, clothing, detox, mental healthcare, healthcare, safe housing and more, if they meet the eligibility criteria. After the interview, I compiled the research and met with a couple of activists from the Phoenix Harm Reduction Organization to discuss what we should do about it. They knew some folks from SWOP Tucson (who are incredible and have been supportive and essential in the creation of the Phoenix chapter) and SWOP PHX was formed as an emergency response. We immediately reached out to other activists and organizations, such as members of  [immigrant rights organization] Puente and Arizona Prison Watch, and began to strategize. We found out the exact dates of the next stings and began street and internet outreach to inform workers of the impending raids, handing out pamphlets and Know Your Rights information. We also protested outside of the Project ROSE command post, Bethany Bible Church.

Did 8 Minutes Lie to Sex Workers?

via aetv.com
Kevin Brown (via aetv.com)

UPDATE

5/1/15 Kamylla’s GoFundMe was taken offline and replaced with a Tilt fundraiser, which has also now been closed down. We will update if we hear news of another fundraising effort.

5/3/15 Here’s an updated fundraiser link.

There’s been no shortage of coverage of A&E’s 8 Minutes, the ostensible reality show in which cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown makes appointments with sex workers and then has the titular amount of time to make a case for them to stop their work. Lane Champagne wrote here in December that

Of all the professions to produce potential sex work interventionists, law enforcement and clergy are at the very top of the Unsuitable list. Behind those two are literally every single other profession, because sex work interventions are vile exercises in the hatred and shaming of sex working individuals and shouldn’t exist.

Supposedly, women who want to leave sex work will be given help. From A&E’s website: “8 Minutes follows Pastor Kevin Brown and his Lives Worth Saving team as they help sex workers and victims of sex trafficking leave their dangerous situations behind to start over.” And how do they do that?

Last week, one woman, who goes by Kamylla, came forward on Twitter to hold the show’s producers accountable for promising her assistance in exchange for her appearance on the show, then leaving her twisting in the wind when she was arrested soon after, having returned to work from economic necessity when they didn’t provide the promised help in exiting the industry.

Kamylla received a call on her work number from the producers of the show, who immediately identified themselves as such (this is in contrast to the premise of the show, which implies that the women believe they are coming to a normal appointment, only to be met by Brown). She agreed to tape a segment for the show, in which she said she wanted help getting out of the business, and after the taping was told she’d soon hear back with more information and assistance.

She never heard back from them, and instead reached out herself, but no meaningful help was to come. Kamylla found herself broke and needing to work again. She posted an ad, using the same number the 8 Minutes producers had contacted her on, and was arrested in a sting. Now she was broke, frightened, and facing criminal charges, and when she reached out for help from 8 Minutes, Brown offered to pray for her.