Several months ago I tweeted about things being very busy and very exciting and about some new projects in the works. Now I can tell you about some of that, and, even better, ask you to participate!
The first exciting bit of news is that I joined the Woodhull Freedom Foundation's advisory council over the summer. Woodhull Freedom Foundation is perhaps the only organization I can think of whose mission involves recognizing sexual freedom in its entirety as a fundamental human right. There are lots of amazing organizations that focus on expanding sexual civil rights in one or another direction, or for one or another population. Woodhull's approach is to move beyond identity politics and establish sexual freedom itself as a right. I'm tremendously excited to be working with them!
The second exciting bit of news relates to the first project I was asked to work on. That project is a the first annual report on the state of sexual freedom in the United States. The idea, in the words of Ricci Levy, Woodhull's Executive Director, is to:
publish regular reports on the sexual freedom movement, designed to help identify the social changes taking place, or that must take place for progress to be made, on the diverse issues on which we work. We are particularly interested in recognizing opportunities for already-established sexual freedom issue groups to work together.
It's very important work for reasons that go beyond the annual report, as well. Gloria Brame took the survey in an early stage, provided feedback, and encouraged her readers to take it by explaining:
The survey was very interesting because it made me re-think and prioritize freedoms -- relatively speaking, how important is sex ed? how important is birth control? what about censorship and sexual freedom of speech? or should we all be focused on equality rights for now?
That's really the point. We need to be thinking in creative ways about what are the most important issues and about how they fit together. Please help us do that. We want to know what are the most important changes you think need to occur in order to make sure that sexual freedom is established as a fundamental human right? What are your priorities? What paths toward change do you think are most effective? And what intersections do you see between your priorities and all the other sexual freedom issues that need to be addressed?
Click here to access a relatively short questionnaire and tell us what you think. If you include an email address we will forward you a copy of the report just before it is publicly released.
I had a very strong reaction to a picture of Patti Smith the other day. As I gazed at the fur under her raised arms, I felt guilty and envious. That peek of hair made me think that when it came to being at home in one’s own skin, I was all talk and she was all action. The feeling was akin to meeting a vegetarian and being forced to reflect on my own carnivorous hypocrisy—lamenting the cruelty of the meat industry and recommending grave documentaries on bestial torture to friends, only to throw back some BBQ during my lunch hour. Staring at the picture, I felt that Patti was the real thing and I was just the synthetic version; as though all the depilatory agents I put between me and my own naturalness had seeped into my pores, making me more chemicals than ideals.
Condoms should not be introducable as evidence in cases about prostitution. Period. People should be able to carry condoms without fear of prosecution. Protecting public health requires the encouragement, not the inhibiting, of condom use.
From the Gender And Sexuality Law Blog at Columbia Law School:
New York’s police and prosecutors should not be permitted to introduce condoms as evidence of prostitution and prostitution-related offenses, according to the students who work in Columbia’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic. The Clinic held a tabling day yesterday at Columbia Law School in support of a New York State bill that would enact this prohibition into law. Over 50 Columbia Law students signed postcards to legislators to support the bill, sending a strong message to legislators that sound public health policy militates against the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution.Under current law, police and prosecutors can and do use condoms to prove prostitution and related offenses, such as patronizing a prostitute, promoting prostitution, and maintaining a premises for prostitution.
Beyond that, especially since today is World Aids Day it is important to acknowledge the tremendously important role sex workers have played in peer education around HIV prevention and condom use.
The list of things for which I'm grateful this year probably deserves a post of it's own, but one of those things also deserves a post of it's own. Put simply, I am grateful for people who do the important work of supporting and defending those others won't help, especially those from whom many turn away reflexivly in fear or disgust. I am grateful to those who stand up and fight against moral panics and the way they undermine freedom through fear.
Thus I am especially grateful for the National Center for Reason & Justice. NCRJ serves people falsely accused or wrongly convicted of crimes against children and does educational work to fight the irrationality and panic - and the consequent violations of people's rights - that too often characterize the investigations and prosecutions of those cases.
Click here for information about the cases NCRJ currently supports.
Below is some information I've excerpted from an NCRJ letter highlighting a few of their successes and explaining their need for your help. I truly hope you can share some holiday generosity with them, and through them with those who have lost their freedom and gained the stigma of child predator unjustly. Please keep reading, or if you are convinced already, please click here to help NCRJ with its important work.
I love Scarleteen. I am proud to be a monthly contributor. Why?
Scarleteen is one of the most reliable sources of independent sex education available to teens. By "independent" I mean that they receive no federal, state, or local funds and are also noncommercial.
Scarleteen is designed specifically for teens and presents sexual health information in a clear and nonjudgmental way. It is maintained by people who care deeply about making sure that teens have access to accurate information with which to make decisions about their bodies and their relationships.
From Heather Corinna, the indomitable force behind Scarleteen, I learned just how much use the site gets:
25,000 unique users daily, with an average of 3.5 page loads apiece.
43,000 registered users on their always-moderated message boards. Scarleteen's staff and voluteers have answered every one of teh 63,000 topis teens have posted, providing honest, accurate and nonjudgmental answers.
900 "Sexpert Advice" columns. "Sexpert Advice" is also syndicated on RH Reality Check (another fabulous information resource).
In addition to blog posts and active forms, Scarleteen runs a text message service where teens can text questions to 66746 (keyword "ASKST") and receive answers directly on their phones.
They do all this with very little money and the unbelievable energy of people like Heather Corinna. And because she is Heather Corinna, she has big plans for the future, provided the money is there. In Scarleteen's plans for 2010?
You may recall that Megan Andelloux's Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health was denied its opening at the Grant building in Pawtucket, RI, because according to the city council's zoning board the building was not zoned for educational purposes. Rebecca Chalker wrote about it here:
Megan is appealing that decision and needs your help.
If you live nearby and can attend the hearing please show your support for nonprofit sex education for adults. The details:
Meet Sandy, a smart, attractive, successful woman in her thirties. She’s an editor at a premiere magazine, has tons of friends, a warm, supportive partner whom she loves and likewise adores her, two rehabilitated shelter cats, a Sedaris sharp sense of humor, time to volunteer and work on her novel, and to top it all off, a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In short, she has it all. Yet every once in a while, she’ll call me in hysterics having talked herself into a panic over something in her life that’s not perfect. These blips, as I call them, can be small and relatively harmless: the phone company has overcharged her for text messages, or large and unyielding: the sister she never got along with is on another rampage. We all know women like Sandy, women with fabulous lives that never quite fulfill their expectations of perfection.
For years, women have had to confront harrowing archetypes that limit the scope of their experiences, desires, and ambitions. The good girl/bad girl dichotomy remains a steadfast way for our culture, and women themselves, to classify not only wants and behaviors, but entire lives. However, as perfection striving becomes more and more common among women living up to impossible standards, a new dichotomy has emerged: the good girl/best girl.
Last night's panel discussion of sex work and civil liberties at Harvard Law School, hosted by the HLS ACLU, the American Constitution Society and the Women's Law Association (?) was a learning experience. I learned that some formats, which sound helpful in theory, are very limiting in practice. I learned that one should never make assumptions about an audience. And I learned that when you've had the last word and the panel is officially over, letting it be reopened is a very bad idea.
The panel was extremely well moderated. Professor Glen Cohen promised at the beginning to keep a tight rein on the discussion and he did. That made me feel confident and safe going into the discussion that it would not become a shouting match nor be derailed by questions that are not really questions. Unfortunately that limited the opportunities for panelists to respond to each other. It meant that if we were to play by the rules (where did I learn to be such a good girl?) we could not easily challenge each other's evidence, or revisit questions once the discussion had moved on. For example, if an audience member had a question specifically for Melissa Farley, and Farley answered using anecdotal or unreliable evidence, as soon the question was answered a new question was invited. There were only a few questions that were posed to the whole panel and it was hard to get back to earlier questions without deviating from the format. So, lesson number one: advocate for format change or break the rules if necessary to get important information out.
I just got back from a New York State United Teachers conference and tomorrow I'm heading up to Cambridge to participate in a panel discussion about sex work and civil liberties. If you're in that area I'd love to see you there!
Sex Work and Civil Liberties: A Panel Discussion
Monday, 11/16, 5:30pm
Harvard Law School ACLU
Pound 107 (map of the law school campus: http://www.law.harvard.edu/about/map.html)
Featuring Vednita Carter, Dr. Melissa Farley, Dr. Samantha Majic, & Dr. Elizabeth Wood.
Moderated by Professor I. Glenn Cohen
Free and open to the public
Co-sponsored by American Constitution Society, Women's Law Association, & Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Please Join Us December 17, 2009 for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Event in Tucson, Arizona!
November 11, 2009
Dear Friends & Supporters of Sex Worker’s Rights:
In 2009, sex workers from around the globe met gruesome deaths and endured unspeakable violence. Some died at the hands of a solitary perpetrator; others were victims of serialprostitute killers. While some of these horrific stories received international media attention ( Boston, Grand Rapids, Albuquerque, Tijuana , Hong Kong , Moscow , Great Britain ,Cape Town , New Zealand ), other cases received little more than a perfunctory investigation. Many cases remain unresolved, sometimes forever.
In fact, most violent crimes against sex workers remain unreported. Stigma and criminalization facilitate this violence; when sex work is criminalized, prostitutes can't turn to the police for protection without risking prosecution themselves. Sex workers remain one of the largest marginalized populations in existence without the benefit of the basic civil rights that everyone else takes for granted.
Each year, December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Last year’s event in Washington, D.C. was a big success and this year, sex workers and their allies from across the U.S. will gather together in Tucson, Arizona to remember and honor sex workers who have been victimized by virtue of their chosen profession - including rape, assault and murder.