Blade: LGBT groups cautious over decriminalizing sex work


D.C. Council member David Grosso said he was reconsidering introducing legislation to decriminalize prostitution in D.C. because he’s unsure it would pass. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Lou Chibbaro reports for the Blade on the push to decriminalize sex work, or at least to de-prioritize enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, an effort which many LGBT groups including GLAA have supported because so many already marginalized LGBT youth and trans women end up in the criminal justice system due to their having to rely on survival sex. Here is an excerpt that mentions GLAA and quotes me:

In D.C., the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance has been calling for decriminalization of sex work since 2008. D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, said at the time of the Amnesty International declaration last August that he was considering introducing legislation to decriminalize prostitution in D.C.

But Grosso has since said he’s uncertain about whether such a bill would have any chance of passing at this time and he was reconsidering his plans for the legislation.

At a news conference on Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced plans for a cooperative D.C.-federal government effort to crack down on human trafficking, including trafficking of sex workers. When asked by a Blade reporter what they thought about calls by some LGBT organizations to decriminalize prostitution, Bowser and Maria Odom, the head of a Department of Homeland Security project to combat trafficking stopped short of backing decriminalization.

“You’ve hit one of the two biggest issues for us to grapple with,” Odom said. “…The question of decriminalization of sex work along with the demand side is two issues we’re learning about from our stakeholders and from service providers,” she said. “And I’m not sure we’re ready to give you an answer on that.”

Bowser said she has challenged her administration to make sure there are opportunities for productive work for all residents. “That’s what people ask me about,” she said. “They don’t say hey, I want to do more sex work. They say I don’t want to be discriminated against in the workplace.”

Added Bowser: “And also what I hear in communities is they don’t want people in some neighborhoods seeing people being exploited day in and day out in neighborhoods across the District of Columbia.” When asked by a citizen attending the news conference whether she believes anyone involved in sex work does so willingly, Bowser said “no.”

GLAA President Rick Rosendall said Tony Perkins, who heads the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, accused GLAA of condoning human trafficking by calling for decriminalizing sex work.

“But the crucial difference, which people like Perkins pretend not to understand, is consent,” said Rosendall. “Human trafficking is a form of slavery. No one seriously thinks we condone that…We are talking about decriminalizing consensual commercial exchanges of sex between adults in private,” he said.

We in GLAA are well aware that this is a controversial issue. Our advocacy has grown out of a desire to help LGBT youth and trans women (especially trans women of color, who represent the most at-risk portion of our community) escape the vicious cycle in which survival sex gets them caught up in the criminal justice system and makes it even harder for them to find productive, non-exploitive work.

Given the present lack of support for decriminalization, we call upon our public officials to identify and implement alternatives to incarceration for sex workers. There must be a distinction between sex trafficking, which is a form of slavery, and consensual sex work that grows out of economic desperation caused by anti-trans discrimination. We agree with Mayor Bowser that the survival sex at the heart of this is not people’s ideal career choice. They need jobs, not jails. We cannot accept just being told what our elected officials are not going to do. We need to hear what they ARE going to do.


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