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I was left feeling that those who had warned me against organizing in strip clubs were right: Most strippers are willing to tolerate labor violations in exchange for the relative freedom to pursue quick cash in an unregulated environment.

Tits and Sass contributor Rachel Aimee explores unionization, law suits, and how strippers try to balance the desire for fair labor practices with the desire for independence at In These Times.

From the Front Lines of Slutwalk: Portland

Elle and friends rallying in Portland.

On the day of SlutWalk Portland, I was irritated because I was running late; I’m consummately punctual and tend to feel anxious if otherwise. (I’m the girl who arrives one hour early to her strip-shift, every night for the last two years). So I was relieved when my boys found a parking spot reasonably close to the starting location of SlutWalk, at the park near the courthouse in downtown Portland, at 4th and Jefferson.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from SlutWalk, but I had high hopes. Previously, I had been asked by a man named Sean Scott to speak candidly for a short video that he was working on. Sean asked me what I hoped to experience at SlutWalk Portland. Speaking honestly, I replied that I was hoping that it would be a gathering where victims and survivors could feel free from harassment, in public, together.

There were dozens of bicycle cops in small hordes, lining the street. Faces partially obscured by identical sunglasses and helmets, standard issue no doubt. They, for the most part, looked less than amused. Another gathering, another parade to babysit. I tried to smile sheepishly at them as we crossed the street.

Turn Off the Blue Light

A friend turned me on this Irish sex worker organization, Turn Off the Blue Light, and their great poster campaign. Prostitution is currently legal in Ireland, but an opposing campaign called Turn Off the Red Light has been picking up momentum in their push for criminalization—ya know, to “end sex trafficking.”

Activist Spotlight Interview: Sarah Patterson on Health, Access, and Risk

Sarah Patterson
Sarah Patterson (photo by Tara Israel)

In January 2012, Sarah Elspeth Patterson and a group of other sex worker activists in NYC went to work offering health care and social services to sex workers. The much needed outcome, Persist Health Project, is the 2nd sex worker only health clinic in the United States, after Saint James Infirmary in San Francisco.

While there is limited funding for it as of yet, the Persist team are diligently working on their labor of love and helping to put an end to the lack of non-biased services for sex workers. Sex workers have a history of being subjected to discrimination, stigma, and forced hospitalization and testing in the mainstream healthcare system. NYC’s Persist strives to be a safe space where sex workers can be open and receive the care they need. You can help contribute to the growth of Persist by donating here. Every little bit helps!

I got a chance to speak with Sarah about the project upon her return from this year’s Desiree Alliance conference.

How would you describe Persist and it’s work?

Persist Health Project (Persist) is a peer-led organization that connects folks in the sex trade in New York City with providers who are either from the community themselves or awesome allies. In addition to coordinating care for people —people can call us and have a provider hand-picked for them, based on their needs —we also offer workshops on health topics, such as burnout, sexual health, and general health. To keep enhancing our network of providers, we offer trainings for health care professionals on how to work with folks in the sex trade better.

Persist was co-founded in January of 2012 by a group of sex worker activists, nurse practitioners, and social workers who are also current workers, former workers, or very committed allies. I brought together people I knew were valuable members of sex worker organizing groups, who were either interested in health for sex workers because of their own experiences with sex work or had transitioned from sex work to health or social services. Many of us had been doing organizing together, were friends or peers, and saw a collective need. Others had dreamed for a long time of opening a clinic space just for sex workers.

What was your motivation for working on this project?

I didn’t give my health a lot of thought until I became a healthcare professional and was expected to be an “expert” on these things. After I got my degree, I found myself doing sexual health education and thinking, what about my own personal health decisions? Am I really being “safe” all the time, or do I do things that are “risky?” Are there better ways to think about this, outside of thinking about everything —drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex, food, so on—as a “risk”? What’s realistic for my life, rather than what is generally taught as the “best” thing to do? Of course, the concept of making health choices that fit your life  is one the fundamentals of harm reduction. But it was only after getting the “right” answers from education that I wondered about the value of what I already knew from my own life experience, and how that might be useful to others.

I think it’s incredibly valuable to be offering positive, affirming peer support to one another from within communities involved with or impacted by the sex trade. In addition to creating communities and shared life experiences, trading sexual services can also be very competitive, anxiety-inducing and isolating. So part of Persist’s goal is to break the feeling of isolation in health care by shifting ideas of what support can look like.

Nothing Scarier Than A Black Trans Woman With A Degree: An Interview With Monica Jones

Monica Jones this February. (Photo via the Support Monica Jones Facebook, courtesy of Monica Jones)
Monica Jones. (Photo by PJ Starr, via the Support Monica Jones Facebook, courtesy of Monica Jones and PJ Starr)

In May 2013, sex worker and trans rights activist and Arizona State University social work student Monica Jones was charged with “manifestation of prostitution” in Phoenix after accepting a ride from an undercover cop.  Her arrest ignited a firestorm of protest against Project ROSE, a prostitution arrest diversion program run by the ASU School of Social Work and the Phoenix police that utilized arrest sweeps; transphobia in those prostitution arrests; and the potentially unconstitutional “manifestation of prostitution” statute under which she was prosecuted. The ACLU, SWOP-Phoenix, and other sex work and GLBT activists stood in solidarity with Jones as she gained international attention speaking out against her charges. 

“The reason why this law [the manifestation of prostitution statute] is so unjust is because it gives the police the credibility to say who’s a sex worker, who’s not a sex worker…it violates our [our First Amendment rights]—just to walk down the street, our freedom of speech,” Jones explained to us. Since her arrest, Jones has gained prominence as an eminent activist, been interviewed by dozens of media outlets, met Laverne Cox, and traveled to Australia for public speaking engagements and study, all while working towards finishing her social work degree.

In November, Jones told Best Practices Policy Project that Project ROSE had been shut down, a crucial victory for the movement in Arizona. And though Jones was initially convicted, her January 2014 appeal was successful and the conviction was vacated. We spoke with her just before the announcement was made; below is a condensed and edited version of our interview, originally conducted via video chat.

Recently, your conviction was vacated. What does that mean for you? What’s next?

I got a call from the court yesterday evening saying that the prosecutors are not going to retry me. So right now we’re looking to see if it’s with prejudice or without prejudice and will it still have an effect on me challenging the constitutionality of the law.

So your ultimate goal with your legal team is to use the case to overturn the law altogether. How can people from other states help fight the law; help fight your campaign against it?

I think there’s a lot more laws like this across this country—like “loitering with intent of prostitution,” and condoms as evidence. I think that they need to take on their own fights in their own homes and their own cities. Because when we get rid of these laws it basically gets rid of sexism and discrimination and transphobia. And it takes the power away from the cops and the justice system to say who is sex working and who’s not sex working.

 A story that brought you to the news in the last few months was your deportation from Australia at the Sydney Airport. From what I read, during your encounter with immigration you were pressured by the producers of the reality show Border Security to have your case filmed. When you refused after initially agreeing, after you realized they planned to sensationalize your story, customs officials began to treat you much more harshly. Can you tell us more about what happened there?

So what happened was I was legally constrained to come back to my appeals. I was doing my internship in Australia, with Scarlet Alliance, a great sex worker organization there, and I was leaving there to come back for my case and I was traveling back to Australia in three days. So when I got to the airport to leave to come to the U.S., they went through all my stuff. They went through my purse, they went through my phone, they went through my suitcase, they went through everything. I had everything about my court case in there in the folder. They went in a back room and went through that. They said, “Okay, you’re good to go.” So I was thinking, okay, I’m good to go.

And when I came back from the U.S., they had pulled me to the side and took me into this room, where I was proceeded to be asked, “Do you want to be filmed by this camera crew?” And the producer of the show said, “We think that your story is interesting.” Which, I’d never told them anything about my story—they know nothing about my story! And so I’m thinking, how do they know my story is interesting? So they kept on asking me questions.

After being pressured I agreed to be filmed. But during the middle of it, I said, “I don’t feel right with this, I think this is suspicious.” And once I did that they were very harsh against me—”Oh, you were doing this, you violated your visa…”

If I violated my visa, you guys should have let me know when you guys originally checked me on my way out of the country! The judge later asked [the immigration officials],” Why were you checking her on her way out of the country?” So they said I was a threat to national security. So I guess activism is a threat to Australia’s security.