photo by Hadley Gastafson
I am back home now, basking in the afterglow after attending The Southern Harm Reduction and Drug Policy Conference 2012 and getting out in the street in Atlanta. ( I started this post months ago right when the conference happened:)) ....It was a fabulous conference and I met so many wonderful activists. The Conference was organized by Atlanta Harms reduction Coalition, North Carolina Harms Reduction Coalition, Women with a Vision (New Orleans), and Streetwise (Tennessee).
I got great feed back from people that heard our panel. Many people told me they learned a lot and felt it would help them to be more compassionate and knowledgeable when providing services for Sexworkers in the south. That makes what we did a success, that’s the goal. This is so needed especially in the south. I feel our whole panel was well balanced and each of us brought out different points that complimented the whole. Reverend Lia School (the rouge reverend) shared her evolution of learning to go beyond stereo types of sexworkers that need to be rescued to seeing them/us as human beings that need safe access to health services, condoms, and to the law. She also spoke about how she worked for HIPSDC harms reduction model sexworkers rights org. Maggie McNeill spoke in depth about her fascinating sexworker activism and also shared about her sexwork history in New Orleans. Maggie was also my room mate at the conference and we had many great discussions. Jessica Land also on our panel, 'sexwork in the south' did a brilliant job speaking about the urgent, often neglected and dire topic of violence against sexworkers in the south. She informed the audience to the fact that there is a serial killer in the southeast currently killing sexworkers that has not been caught. This is a big deal that is very under reported. My co-panalists all gave excellent and informative presentations. Art Jackson was the moderator for our panal who gave an impassioned powerful talk the day before on the importance of having someone HIV positive on the staff of HIV/AIDS organizations. When I spoke I concurred and added that in any organization serving sexworkers absolutely must have sexworkers or former sexworkers as consultants, staff members or board members for an organization to be ethically representative.
Kelli Dorsey, director of 'Different Avenues' in Wash DC, during her enlightening presentation said that decriminalizing sexwork may not even make that much of an impact for people of color and people w/ street based economies because they will always be criminalized for something... Hence police tactics such as racial profiling, stop and frisk, systematic state oppressions like criminalizing homelessness, lack of voting access and poverty etc.
(pictured in the photo directly above from left to right, Mona Bennett, Kimberly Thrush, Alan Clear, Kelli Dorsey, and Deon Hayward during the panel 'the importance of including drug users and sexworkers in decision making' photo by Stella Zine)
"In [the] black community, [we're] not suppose to talk abt sex or sex economy; we've been hypersexualized; defense mechanism."
Dr. Mirelle brings up an excellent point that I feel is important to consider in the context of sexwork in the US south. Black women have been so hyper-sexualized in culture so it makes sense that it would be a survival tactic and a defense mechanism to not be out about being a sexworker, or comfortable embracing 'sexworker pride'. Tho I think it's important to note Dr Mirelle sees 'not talking about sex or sex economy' as a defense mechanism. Being an out sexual being and monetizing erotic services for consenting adults is a civil right for any person. For any of us to have to hide leaves us more vulnerable to bad policy, bad police and or harmful clients.
Much of the visible national US sexworkers’ rights movement in the last 15 or twenty years has been pretty dern white. Though at the international Conference on Prostitution in 1997 that I attended, was very multi-cultural and fabulous. But it has seemed like the American sexworkers rights movement has been visibly white. That must change for the movement to really be effective and reach goals of ending violence against sexworkers, end stigma and decriminalizing all aspects of the industry in the US. And from learning more from my sisters of color in the struggle I am realizing how decriminalization of sexwork is not enough, ending all genocidal mass incarcerations is dire.
I may even do a part two post on the conference. Tho it is now time to let this post see the light of day! I also know there is a huge amount of new pressing situations occurring in the southern sexworkers rights movement in early 2013. In Atlanta currently, we are fighting a proposal by the Atlanta Police Department for increased criminalization and actual 'banishment' of sexworkers from the city limits on a second charge of solicitation (prostitution/sexwork). Which could of course have a devastating impact for those on street based economies if the legislation passes. That is for the next post! I am so grateful for the inspiring conferences and activism going on here in the south and I look forward to next years southern harms reduction conference in New Orleans!
all of the photos and videos are taken by me with the exception of one by Hadley Gastafson credited on a photo above.