Grind the Vote D.C. 2008: Sex Workers From Pole to Poll!

From Sin City to the Big Apple, sex workers are organizing for political and economic justice. Now in the Nation’s Capital we are capitalizing on the sex worker electorate to Grind the Vote! The sex workers of $pread Magazine, Different Avenues and Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), are proud to host their first voter registration event and dance-party this July 30th.

Grind the Vote 2008 in D.C. will register voters and create awareness around the issues concerning sex workers throughout the country. Please forward this information to Beltway contacts!


9PM-2AM, Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Be Bar’s “be:xx” night
1318 9th St NW
Washington, D.C.

Join us for politically-inspired performances and a rockin’ mid-week dance party featuring strip-tease, drag acts, raffle, DJs Bent & Kofi, burlesque, voter guides. Also featured will be updates from Different Avenues and HIPS on the policing of sex work in D.C., Prostitution Free Zones (PFZs) and the political entrepreneurs of Washington, D.C. For the first time in D.C. history, candidates running for election in the district will be asked about their positions on the criminalization approach to sex work in the city by an established political advocacy group, the non-partisan Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“Grind the Vote is the first-ever national voter awareness and registration event for sex workers and their allies in the United States,” said Carol Leigh of Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network (BAYSWAN). “Our fast growing movement has learned much about the political process and how crucial our political participation is. This day is a milestone in the history of political participation and
self-representation in the USA.”

William Rockwell, $pread Magazine, 917.345.0404, will@spreadmagazine.org

Darby Hickey, Different Avenues, 202.829.2103, darby@differentavenues.org

Cyndee Clay, Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), 202.232.8150, cyndeeclay@hips.org

Men and The Issue of Timing- Desiree Alliance

Saturday late morning, or maybe it was early afternoon I rolled into the third day of the Desiree Alliance mid-way through the morning plenary. The room was half full and a panel of male identified sex workers were sharing the mic. People slowly trickled in, grabbed some fruit and found their seats as the guys talked.

The panel consisted of about 7 men, which was a noticeable increase from last year. They came from San Francisco, New York, and Chiacgo and maybe L.A. They were very well spoken as they discussed issues of inclusiveness, outreach and sexual orientation. When the panel opened up for questions, one of the first was from Naomi of St James Infirmary who brought up the excellent point that if we as a community want to really welcome and include the male workers, we would get up and show up for their plenary. If after a weekend night of partying the guys could be ontime and ready to present, the least we could do is be there to support and listen. Stacey Swimme, one of the very hard working key organizers responded that she was hoping that giving them the opening slot to kick off the day would show that they were valued and bring everyone else out to listen.

This made me think about the issue of timing at conferences such as these, and the message it can inadvertently send. I have never organized a conference so its easy for me to have an idea about it without full knowledge of all of the factors involved, but I know that it is complex and difficult and someone is always going to be unhappy with the position of their presentation. I think weekend mornings are naturally going to be especially difficult with our group. Its amazing how a schedule can affect the mood of all the participants: when the breaks are, what the day starts with, who gets undivided attention. I think the organizers to a fantastic job on working these things out, and that it is an ever morphing beast that will just get smoother and more fine-tuned.

Some other interesting points from the (second-half of) the “Male Sex Workers: How to Organize, Support and Advocate for Themselves in the Movement” Plenary:

-possibly there a less men in the sex workers’ rights movement because most male sex workers are gay and stigma against sex work is far less in the gay men’s community than the rest of society. As one man put it: “we (gay men) are all whores anyway” so they get more support and a sense of community.

-in response, one of the panelist classified himself in this way: “I’m me first, then gay, then a sex worker” so while he is very active in activist work, he proposes that many men may not necessarily feel the need to organize around sex work specifically as it is a outer layer of identity.

-there was a discussion about openness and inclusivity, and that they needed to start in the language and imagery of our own movement. Many of the panelist didn’t feel terribly represented or included in all of the “women”, “ladies” language and images that focus on female (often white and biologically female) sex workers. People often look at promotional material to determine whether or not an event or community or cause is “for them” and even if they are invited personally, they will not feel totally welcome or wanted if they do not see themselves represented in language and images of the group.

-another panelist shared a maxim he learned early on that helps him deal with stigma and oppression called the 3 F’s. “If someone isn’t Feeding, Financing or Fucking me, than why the hell do I care what they think? What right do they have to say anything about how I live my life? Fuck ’em!”

I can’t wait to see the groups of men and transpeople at the conference grow. It seems that numbers attract numbers and I think the more people we have from every group of sex work we have at our conference and in our movement, the stronger and more representative we will be as a force for change and helping each other and ourselves.