‘Decriminalize sex work now!’

Sawyer Eason is an artist and organizer working with Peoples Power Assemblies NYC, Decrim NY and Brooklyn Transcore. She plays bass in the do-it-yourself sludge metal act, MANDY. This is a slightly edited version of Sawyer’s talk at the 2019 May Day rally on Wall Street in New York City.

I’m Sawyer, and I am here with Peoples Power Assemblies. I’m very grateful to be speaking on May Day for the first time. I wanna take a moment and talk about sex workers and how we relate to the revolutionary movement.

We have been a part of the workers’ struggle for as long as there has been a workers’ struggle. Our work has dignity. We perform a service people want. We work just like everyone else does. But often times, on days like these, our labor isn’t praised. People’s discomfort with us keeps us out of the struggle.

Some people in the labor movement don’t wanna recognize the radical work we do. But sex workers are at the forefront of the movement now, and our history is strong. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are the mothers of Gay Pride.  They were two trans women of color who survived off sex work. Marsha was believed to have thrown the first brick during the Stonewall Rebellion. Marsha and Sylvia created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries — STAR — in the 1970s.  They used sex work to pay for a building on the Lower East Side to house queer youth who were experiencing homelessness.

Sex workers are revolutionaries. Sex workers are people who live at a variety of interesections. Sex workers are often people of color and often lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Many sex workers are migrants. The people most affected by anti-sex worker legislation are the people who live at a variety of interesections. We have to defend Black and Brown and trans sex workers!

But anti-sex worker legislation has affected all sex workers. Safer avenues of work posted on the internet have disappeared throughout the last year.  SESTA/FOSTA [Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act], a series of laws passed in the last year with the stated intention of protecting sex trafficking victims, have resulted in the closure of most of the online platform providers used to work safely. These laws have not protected sex workers, and they’ve conflated sex work with human trafficking.

I wanna say that if you wanna protect sex workers, you need to listen to sex workers. We do not want SESTA. We do not need this law or any law that interferes with sex workers. We need full decriminalization now! Let us do what we do! Get the government out of our lives!

If we wanna say we care about human trafficking, then we should pay more attention to labor trafficking. Migrant labor is being exploited all over the world.

Trans women of color walking down the street in Queens are being profiled and arrested for wearing heels and carrying condoms. Our sisters are in jail and prison. Some of them are sex workers. Some were arrested for just walking while being trans. The only way forward is to defund the police who arrest us, fully decriminalize sex work, destigmatize the practice of sex work and decarcerate the people who are in prison due to bogus laws.

Decriminalize sex work now!

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