There’s this notion of treating sex workers like children who need watching over, but we don’t, and our model is evidence of that. – Catherine Healy
For years I have held the position that the cause of sex worker rights, as part of the whole fabric of recognition of the individual’s right to be unmolested by the state due to private sexual behavior, must inevitably succeed. As civilization has developed, respect for individual civil rights has steadily grown; certainly the growth has been neither smooth nor consistent, but as a rule the rights of individuals are greater at any randomly-selected point on the timeline of history than they were at any randomly-selected previous point. For the past century or so the development of individual rights has been impeded by the cancer known as Progressivism, the belief that “experts” have more right to determine what is “good” for any individual than that individual has to determine that for himself, and that said “experts” have the right to dispatch armed thugs to use violence to punish those who dare to violate the arbitrary pronouncements of those experts, in order to terrorize the greater population into meek obedience. But the bloody consequences of “progressive” thought are at last becoming obvious to all but the True Believers and the hopelessly collectivist, and it’s only a matter of time before drug prohibition follows eugenics, and prohibition of pragmatic sexual activity follows prohibition of non-procreative sexual activity, onto the ash-heap of history.
In recent years, the prohibitionists who saw this trend have been fighting a last, desperate, all-out campaign against the inevitable; it’s no accident that “sex trafficking” hysteria appeared on the scene immediately after three huge developments in sexual freedom (loosening of restrictions on sex work in Germany, decriminalization in New Zealand and the abolition of “sodomy” laws in the US) made it obvious that state control of individual sexual behavior was on its way out. But any campaign driven entirely by disinformation, conflation, negation of individual agency and pure moral panic cannot last forever, no matter how many billions are pumped into it; slowly but surely the truth will out. Since the summer of 2012 momentum for decriminalization has been building outside of the demimonde, and a broad coalition of UN agencies, health officials, human rights groups, think tanks, academics and journalists has joined sex workers in demanding that the state keep its filthy hands out of whores’ lingerie. For over two years now I’ve been waiting for signs that our society had reached the watershed moment, the point at which the momentum would begin to run away from prohibition and toward respect for individual rights again, and I think that finally came two weeks ago when Amnesty International declared its support for decriminalization. Since then, prohibitionists’ wailing and gnashing of teeth has largely been drowned out by the sounds of jubilation from the harlots’ camp, and a chorus of assent from many who had remained silent on the issue for a long time, such as drug anti-prohibitionist Richard Branson; even prohibitionist-leaning news organizations like The Guardian and Al Jazeera published op-eds cheering the Amnesty decision. But none of them were as welcome to me as the statement from venerable GLBT rights group Lambda Legal:
…we…applaud and support Amnesty International’s recent resolution to protect the human rights of sex workers by calling for decriminalization of sex work…For many LGBT people, participation in street economies is often critical to survival…Transgender people engage in sex work at a rate ten times that of cisgender women, and 13% of transgender people who experience family rejection have done sex work…LGBT people are regularly profiled, harassed, and criminalized based on the presumption that they are sex workers, contributing to the high rates of incarceration and police brutality experienced by these communities …Laws criminalizing sexual exchange—whether by the seller or the buyer—impede sex workers’ ability to negotiate condom use and other boundaries, and force many to work in hidden or remote places where they are more vulnerable to violence. Research and experience have shown that these laws serve only to drive the industry further underground…We look forward to working…with sex workers and…Amnesty International, to replace laws that criminalize sex work with public policies that address sex workers’ real…needs.
This is huge; Lambda was a major player in the advances in gay rights over the past forty years, and its support may give our movement the much-needed legal firepower that the ACLU’s abdication of its responsibilities has cheated us of for decades. To be sure, the conditions mentioned in this statement are nothing new, and had mainstream gay rights organizations not been obsessively dedicated to pursuing the agenda of white, middle-class, monogamous, vanilla gay folk for this entire century so far, they could have been addressing these issues long ago. But if they’re willing to stop ignoring us at last, and to put their might behind us in earnest, I for one am willing to forgive them. Gay rights groups, anti-prohibitionist groups, sex-positive groups…I don’t know where you’ve been hiding for the past eleven years, or what you’ve been waiting for to speak up. But if that’s finally changed, we can discuss it later; right now you’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and we are sorely in need of your help.