Politics & Law
A hearing begins in Washington, DC this coming Monday (and continues the following week) on a piece of legislation proposed by Councilman Catania. Bill 18-482, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, that will finally grant same-sex partners the right to marry in the District of Columbia.
Unfortunately, the way the bill is currently written it will also end the Domestic Partner registry in DC. This registry is so well-written it has been the model for others across the country. In ending the ability to register as domestic partners, the bill will give one group of individuals their long-denied rights to marry while taking away the rights of another group of individuals - those who choose, for whatever reason, to NOT marry.
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation is one of several hundred witnesses - apparently the largest turn out in the history of the council - who will be testifying at this hearing. We aren't the only organization and/or individuals concerned about the domestic partner registry and we are all hopeful that we can achieve same sex marriage without stripping another group of individuals of their equal rights.
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation (WFF) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. We define sexual freedom as the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality. Part of this definition includes the right of adults to engage in the relationship of their choice with other consenting adults – with the same equal rights afforded to other relationships.
There are nearly 100 million unmarried adults in America: about 15% live with intimate partners and about one-third live alone; that leaves the majority of unmarried people living with other people in a web of important relationships. In 2007, nearly 6.5 million households in the U.S. – including nearly 20,000 in D.C. – comprised only unmarried adults related by blood.
According to the testimony of one of our allies, the Alternatives to Marriage Project,
"These lives are intertwined; many take responsibility for each other as family yet few are eligible for the legal protections or obligations of marriage. By being open to people not eligible to marry for reasons other than gender, the District’s domestic partnership registry created an important national model of how to encourage and recognize personal responsibility."
Winning rights isn't about patience. It is about persistence and perseverance and the recognition of progress that it happens.
A wonderful orator, he started with gratitude for the opportunity to open for Lady GaGa. He went on to say many important things but one was "None of us wants to be defined by just one part of what makes us whole" after saying that every issue he deals with touches on the LGBT community: jobs, war, schools, health care. EVERYTHING is an LGBT issue. And he recognized progress made in some areas specific to LBGT communities while acknowledging that progress has not come fast enough in other areas, saying that it was not for him to counsel patience any more than it would have been appropriate to counsel patience for African Americans during the civil rights movement.
Meanwhile in DC:
- President Obama attended the HRC event and promised to sign the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill next week.
- President Obama acknowledged that LGBT residents are denied their full rights and responsibilities as citizens, but also that justice is not done by seeing people for a single part of their identities.
- President Obama indicated that he supported an inclusive ENDA.
- President Obama said we are going to end the discriminatory practice of keeping people out of the country based on HIV/AIDS status.
- President Obama indicated that we are moving ahead on Don't Ask Don't Tell.
- President Obama called for the rest of us to pressure him to make the case across America that these changes and others need to be made.
Is there much more that needs to be done.
Can we do it?
Yes, we can.
(Do I still get a thrill out of typing 'President Obama'? Yes, I do!)
Margaret Brooks and Donna Hughes of Citizens Against Trafficking (CAT) criticise our lettter to the Rhode Island legislature of July 31st raising concerns about proposed criminalisation of sex work. . In their article "International Sex Radicals Campaign to Keep Prostitution Decriminalized in Rhode Island" they claim the presence of an international conspiracy.
While I disagree with their basic premise that prostitution - indoor or outdoor - should be criminalized (I believe that criminalization will make things worse rather than better) I want to point to some very helpful observations made by RI Senators Paul V. Jabour and Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey in yesterday morning's Herald News.
1. We need to re-draw the now-blurred line between prostitution, human trafficking, and age of consent issues. It does not help victims of forced labor or coercive human trafficking when we distract ourselves from their issues by focusing on the sexual content of some of their work. Nor does it help when we make generalizations about prostitution.
Honorable Representatives and Senators,
As a retired sex worker and a long time sex worker rights activist, I’d like to address the Rhode Island bill which proposes to criminalize indoor prostitution. I am hoping that reason will prevail and you will not be pressured into signing a piece of legislation which will so negatively impact the lives of sex workers in your state. While I am a resident of California and not Rhode Island, I have been fighting against laws which criminalize consenting adult prostitution- wherever those laws exist- since I left my job with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1982.
I worked for ten years as a civilian traffic officer with the LAPD, primarily at night, and I witnessed first hand what happens when laws are arbitrarily enforced and used against women to extort sex, money and information. I left the police department because corruption on all levels was so pervasive, and I became a call girl and a sex worker rights activist so that I could expose the rampant abuses perpetrated by the cops against prostitutes and others. Simply put, bad laws make bad police officers.
I experienced being arrested and incarcerated and I have to tell you, it is far more traumatic than anything a prostitute might encounter at the hands of her clients. Being arrested has quite the opposite effect of being ‘rescued.’ It destroys your life. If indeed prostitutes suffer from PTSD as many anti- prostitution activists allege, this may be a direct result of being arrested and incarcerated, rather than giving pleasure for pay.
I woke this morning to find lots of support in the face of a personal attack by Donna Hughes against me and the other signers of a letter to the Rhode Island legislature arguing against the criminalization of prostitution there.
Thank you to all those who are being so supportive of me. I will respond to the attack myself later, but first I want to say that I am very worried that this could distract from the real issue at hand, which is our work to keep consensual adult sexual exchange from becoming criminalized in RI.
Both for the sake of those who are victimized by players in the sex industry and also for the sake of those who find meaningful careers there, and for all those in between, we need to keep our focus on the creation of sane and useful laws. Criminalizing prostitution will eliminate a source of livelihood for some and will drive harmful activity further underground. This must be avoided.
Some important points to keep in mind, and to keep in front of those who make the laws:
- Adults need to be free to make decisions about the kinds of consensual sex they do and do not want to engage in with other adults.
- Everybody deserves a right to earn a decent standard of living.
- Physical autonomy is a basic human right.
- Everybody, regardless of industry, ought to have safe working conditions and be free from violence. Laws to protect workers, and laws to prohibit violence, need not criminalize work in order to be effective.
- Just because lots of states have irrational laws doesn't mean that Rhode Island needs to follow suit. (Just because something is, doesn't mean it ought to be.)
Tara Hurley, director of "Happy Endings?", wrote a fantastic letter to the RI legislators. She calls for others to do the same. She got an encouraging response from one legislator who said he was being bombarded by Hughes supporters and really needed to hear from those who oppose criminalization.
You can use these email addresses to write to the lawmakers in Rhode Island. If you live in Rhode Island your voice is even more important right now.
With her permission I am reprinting Tara's letter below. Please feel free to use it as inspiration for your own:
First let me offer condolences on the recent passing of Representative Slater. I think a lot can be learned from his career. It was difficult to pass a medical marijuana law, but Rep. Slater remained the forceful voice for its passage, and I know he gained the respect of many of his fellow Assembly Members.
One of the lessons I hope that was learned during the debate and ultimate passage of the “Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act” is that for the benefit of the citizens of Rhode Island debates should be based in reason and fact, not emotion and propaganda. I wish the atmosphere in which the medical marijuana was debated could return for the debate on prostitution.
I know many women who work in spas from when I made my film. I want what is best for these women. I want what is best for Rhode Island. I know that these two things are not mutually exclusive.
As a woman and Rhode Islander, I am offended at the tactics of Donna Hughes and Citizens Against Trafficking. It seems like Hughes and CAT do not care about the women, all they want is a "moral victory". They have no basis for their attacks on me, the spas, the people who have been writing to you, and basically anyone who does not accept or promote their agenda, including RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking. I have been following this a long time, and it is bad enough to attack me, fellow academics, or even the women they claim to be trying to help, but to attack a RI Coalition Against Human Trafficking is beyond the barrel. It is horrible that this radical fringe group could drive out the coalition that seemed to actually care about the women.
To use an analogy, I would say that Hughes and CAT are to Rhode Island and sex workers as Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church are to homosexuals. They are both radical fringe groups that use fear and hate mongering. I am an artist, so I believe in freedom of speech, so even though I do not agree with Hughes or CAT, I believe they have the same right to freedom of speech as everyone else. I just hope that people don’t confuse the propaganda and fear mongering for fact. If you would like to save yourself some time, just delete anything that comes from Hughes or CAT, unless you enjoy reading fiction and extremist propaganda.
Director "Happy Endings?"
In writing our letter to the Rhode Island legislature in July of this year, we were forced to depart from our usual position of building and bridging communities by the political realities. Nor was it easy for us to explain to the politicians how the bills` supporters conflated and generalised information from one sector of a highly diversified activity without appearing to privilege the indoor market.
As it so happened, our decision to send a letter from the academic community was reasonably effective. Predictably we were attacked by the extreme right wing as perverts and pedophiles. We now need to move on to the planned second stage, a letter from the rest of the community involved in sex work, and also an opportunity for those who were unable to sign the first letter.
Last week 50 academics signed on to a letter written by Ron Weitzer and myself. It was a collaborative effort and required compromise and you can read the letter here. Today there have been several news stories about this letter. If you support the overall mission of keeping prostitution in RI from being criminalized please comment on the stories listed below, or blog about the same. Here are some links:
Boston Herald - Boston,MA,USA
Providence Journal - Providence,RI,USA
FOXNews - USA
Update: More news coverage! Please comment on these stories if you can!
Providence Daily Dose: (author is a state rep)
WJAR 10 Providence:
WBZ Radio (Boston):
News on Feeds:
Much of what is said about the sex industry revolves around a single question: Is it okay or not? This question can be phrased in many ways: Is it okay that prostitution exists? Can street hooking ever be a real job? Is everyone who sells sex exploited or free? To address this question, most people talk about their own experience or that of the people they know personally or did research with, after which they extrapolate to a bigger group. But in the end it’s a question with different answers for different people in different places and moments in their lives.