Supporters March and Rally in Support of Sex Worker’s Rights
“Sex Worker Rights = LGBTQ Rights.” “Sex Work is Real Work.” “No Bad Whores, Just Bad Laws.”
Those are just some of slogans seen at last week’s rallies and marches in support of Rentboy and sex worker’s rights held in New York City, San Francisco and West Hollywood.
“All of us have to unite. It is absolutely critical,” said Steven Kesslar, an escort since 2000. “And I don’t mean just escorts, but the people who hire them, gay men, and their allies among the transgender community. And among women escorts, who have the most to lose from this because they are the primary victims of violence, have to stand united on this.”
Kesslar drove 120 miles from Palm Springs to be a part of the march in West Hollywood.
New York City (Photo Credit Keith Gemerek)
The controversy started on Aug. 25 when Rentyboy’s headquarters were raided in New York City by police, with help from Homeland Security. Rentboy CEO Jeffrey Hurrant and six of his employees were arrested, and the popular male escorting site, which has operated since 1997, was shut down.
Reaction from the LGBT community was swift – dozens of LGBT organizations, sex worker’s right groups and human rights groups condemned the raid. Some called it a waste of Homeland Security’s resources, while others decried the "war on sex." Many also called for the decriminalization of sex work.
LGBT groups in particular pointed that many times LGBT people are forced into sex work as a means of survival and websites like Rentboy provide a safer alternative to walking the streets or having a pimp. Protesters say sex work helps pay bills such as rent, food, or even a college education.
Mark Sade organized Labor of Love, the Sept. 5 rally, in San Fran. Several hundred people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in the heart of the City's primarily LGBT Castro District to show support for Rentboy and to demand that those who choose sex work be left in peace.
Sade, who has a background in putting together events for organizations like Make a Wish and Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, said that he organized the rally because he was "pissed off" at the authorities targeting the gay community.
Speakers at the rally included porn stars, pornographers, escorts, and even an attorney who specializes in representing members of the sex trade.
"What do we want?" asked escort and porn model Lance Navarro as he took to the microphone. "Freedom! Freedom to do as we please with our bodies and our money!"
The crowd cheered.
Navarro pointed out that until 1914, sex work was legal in San Francisco.
"For some this work is a means to an end," he said. "It's a way to pay rent, to get yourself through college. For me it's a labor of love."
Navarro shared a letter he had received from a client, a man who came out as gay at age 73 after the death of his wife – Navarro was the gentleman's first gay sexual encounter.
"There were no words to describe it for me," the man wrote. "It was like being released from bondage, from a prison, much of my own making, but also of society. I cried several times while in Lance's arms."
"I'm a proud gay pornographer," said gay porn filmmaker Pam Dore as she addressed the crowd. "I worked on a lot of events with Rentboy– it broke my heart when I heard this."
Better known as Mr. Pam, the openly bisexual mentioned Rentboy's recently launched scholarship program, which was meant to help escorts go back to school.
"Who's next?" Dore asked. "We all have to stand for each other."
On the same day in West Hollywood protestors shared that same sentiment where about 20 people showed up in support of sex worker’s rights and to condemn the raid on Rentboy.
Danny Cruz of Hollywood organized that rally.
“Besides being a human rights issue, sex work is also a labor rights issue, so it was kind of fitting to have it on Labor Day weekend. Sex work is work. It is emotional labor. It’s physical labor. So we are demanding protection under the law instead of being looked at as criminals,” said Cruz, a sex worker of 10 years. “We want to protest the really horrible laws that marginalize communities like trans women and communities of color that bear the brunt of violence from police.”
|San Francisco (Photo: David-Elijah Nahmod)|
The protestors marched about one mile down the sidewalk along Santa Monica Boulevard from La Cienega Boulevard to West Hollywood Park, through what is known as “Boystown,” where the majority of gay bars and clubs are located.
They handed out “The War on Sex Work” pamphlets, which outline why they were marching. That flier described the recent history of the Rentboy raid and said, “We march [in] solidarity with those affected by the shutdown of Rentboy.com. We march in support of the decriminalization of sex work in all forms.”
The other side of the flier had “Know Your Rights: A Short Guide for Folks Impacted by the Rentboy.com Raid” which encouraged people, who had a paid account on Rentboy to seek legal advice. It also advises people to get more information from HookUpCollaborative.wordpress.com or Swopuse.org.
"You can't use morality as a basis for discrimination," said attorney Gil Sperling, who often represents people who work in the sex industry. Sperling attended the rally in San Fran. "You can't tell someone they can't do something because you don't like it."
More than 100 people participated in the rally in New York City that took place Sept. 3, two days before the other rallies.
“We condemned the Homeland Security/NYPD raid, demanded the U.S. Attorney drop the charges and made a loud and visible call for decriminalization,” said Bill Dobbs, a long time gay activist and one of the organizers of the rally. “Picketers ranged from newbies and people with a personal stake in the issues to longtime LGBT activists including at least one person whose gay political work began before Stonewall.”
Apparently authorities were taking no chances with the protestors.
“This was done all under the watchful eyes of federal and other security - at least three guys carrying automatic weapons,” he said describing the scene. “There's rising anger about this awful bust.”
David-Elijah Nahmod reported on this story from San Francisco and James Mills reported from West Hollywood.
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