Home Activism Five Reasons Sex Workers in the US Should Care About the International...

Five Reasons Sex Workers in the US Should Care About the International AIDS Conference

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.

4. Because sex workers are flagged as one of the key populations at higher risk for HIV transmission. The other populations in this group are intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men (MSM) – global health groups often problematically include trans women in the category of MSM. Some of our lives intersect with more than one of these categories.

5. Because on top of having our own problems the U.S. exports terrible policies and strings-attached funding that harms sex workers. For example the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which funds international organizations, include an anti-prostitution clause in contracts with grantees. American sex workers must stand up to our government and denounce PEPFAR and similar policies that harm our brothers and sisters around the world. The IAC is an important forum for us to make our voices heard.

There is some organizing happening already around the conference, but the more the merrier. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal for either a presentation at the conference or a cultural event at the Global Village, be sure to do so before February 15. If you want to show up, demonstrate, and represent sex workers, start planning, and start talking to other sex workers who might be interested in going. If you’re never done activism beyond your city, state, or the U.S., the IAC is a great opportunity to learn from and interact with sex workers from around the world.

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.


  1. I second this and am an abstract “advisor” for the Minority AIDS Council with a focus on the sex industry. I went to the last IAC in Vienna, at which sex workers’ groups had a strong presence and I would love to see that replicated in DC. We have a duty to challenge the idea that sex workers are the spreaders of infections and work to guarantee safe access to prevention methods.

  2. Hear, Hear!! Thanks for writing that, Audacia.

    I had the privilege of attending the WAC in Mexico City in 2008 and it was amazing to be surrounded by so many sex workers from around the world. There were sex workers from Mexico to Madagascar! It was an incredible experience, and I strongly urge anyone who loves a good gathering of sex workers to attend. If you liked Desiree Alliance’s conferences, the WAC Global Village will blow you away! 🙂

  3. I must be missing something – in July 2011, a federal court of appeals enjoined the US from forcing NGOs to take the pledge as a condition for accepting funding. The Supreme Court hasn’t taken it up for consideration (not for the 2012 “season”, anyways).

    Is there a reason no one is doing a happy dance? Please enlighten me! Thanks.

    Court opinion here (thanks to NYU’s Brennan Center for helping litigate this) http://brennan.3cdn.net/3b080c9f787a34860c_gdm6b9xbx.pdf

    • The Supreme Court decision from last year only applies to US-based orgs (its a freedom of speech case), so international orgs still sign a contract that includes the anti-prostitution language in it. The clause, however, is not a separate pledge, as it once was – but its still some really murky stuff.

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