Candidate fights solicitation charge
by Matthew S. Bajko
Starchild, a candidate in the District 8 supervisor race, is fighting prostitution charges after he was arrested in a police sting operation last winter in a Fremont hotel. Already struggling to be taken seriously as a political contender, the perennial candidate could face jail time if a jury convicts him.
Despite his arrest, Starchild said he saw no reason why he should not enter the supervisor race. He first ran for the District 8 seat in 2002 and made his first foray in politics when he ran for state Assembly in 2000. Two years ago he tried to win election to the city's school board.
"There is a certain virtue about being open about this stuff. I don't have skeletons in my closet; they are all out in the living room partying," said the bisexual escort and erotic dancer. "Willie Brown has done all kinds of things that would have sunk other peoples' political careers but it didn't hurt his because he was open about them and made fun of it."
So far, he said he has not met with any negative responses when voters learn of his tangle with the police.
"I think I am fortunate because I live in a jurisdiction like San Francisco where people are pretty tolerant in a certain respect. I haven't gotten any negative reaction at all, either they are shy or too guilty to say it to my face," said Starchild, who legally changed his name from Chris Fox in 1998 and lists his age as 35 on an online escort profile.
His legal troubles began on the morning of December 6 last year when a woman responded to his escort advertisement on Craigslist.com. According to various accounts of his arrest he posted online and provided via a friend to the Bay Area Reporter, Starchild received a call from the woman, who identified herself as Sara, asking him to meet her and her friend, Tiffany, at the Best Western Garden Court Inn on Mowry Avenue in Fremont.
After taking BART from San Francisco to the inn, Starchild said he arrived at the hotel and met the woman he had spoken to on the phone, who gave her name this time as Heather. He said he questioned her about the name change – she said she did not want to use her real name on the phone – but was not overly alarmed by the discrepancy.
Once inside the room, he noticed cash on a bedside table but declined at first to take it from the women. He began to undress, lit several candles and opened a bottle of wine he had brought, while the women peppered him with questions about what kinds of activities they would engage in.
According to the accounts, at this point Starchild heard a voice shout "Fremont police" from outside the door and six officers barged into the room with a canine officer followed by a television cameraman who identified himself as a KRON 4 employee. The police placed him in handcuffs and charged him with soliciting prostitution.
At his arraignment in January, Starchild pleaded not guilty to the charges and has vowed to fight them at trial. He said he declined a plea deal offered by the Alameda County District Attorney's office in which he would have been required to plead guilty to the prostitution charge, perform 80 hours of community service, pay a $500 fine, and be placed on three years probation.
"I am not making a deal. It was horrible," he said. "What happens then when you are on probation they can come and search your home at any time. If I was to get arrested for anything else, even protesting at a public rally, that could be a violation of my probation. If I were arrested again for soliciting prostitution – regardless if you are a client or the sex worker – the way the law treats it, it is more serious each time and the penalties are greater the second time around."
A member of the Libertarian Party and an activist for sex worker rights, Starchild has lashed out at the Fremont Police Department for what he sees as a waste of taxpayer's money in a city where the department refuses to answer home burglar alarms due to a lack of resources and personnel.
"People should be given the right to do whatever they want when it comes to sex, especially if they are adults and it is consensual. There should not be laws against it," said Starchild.
The assistant D.A. handling the case, Jason Chin, did not return calls seeking comment. The court has yet to set a date for the start of the trial. Barring another plea deal, Starchild said he fully expects his case to go to court. He said he hopes he can beat the charges, but at the same time, he is apprehensive about standing before a jury in Fremont.
"No, I am not confident. It is certainly going to go to trial unless they offer me something better than they are now," said Starchild, who has already spent $1,500 defending himself and has asked friends and supporters to help him pay his legal bills. "I don't know how a jury in Fremont will think about this. It certainly is not hopeless but there is always a chance I will be wrongfully convicted for this."
In the meantime, he plans to use his campaign for supervisor to champion decriminalizing prostitution. He attended a forum on the issue held earlier this month and is helping to circulate a petition calling on San Francisco officials to stop arresting sex workers. [See story, page 15.] He is also calling on people in the sex worker industry to "come out of the closet" and educate their friends, family, and neighbors about their profession.
"It is similar to queer people coming out of the closet. If all the sex worker users and workers – people who are involved in the sex industry – were open and public about it there is no way the bigoted and discriminatory laws we have now would not crumble overnight," he said. "What is tremendously ironic about the whole prostitution thing is it is not illegal to have sex for money according to the government as long as you are being filmed. Doing it as a porn star it is perfectly okay but if no one is watching you then it is considered a crime. I mean, think about that for a while.
"It is such a huge, glaring hypocrisy. It really blows my mind how people can take this stuff seriously and act like we have to have prostitution laws otherwise the moral standing of society would collapse," he added. "I think most San Franciscans do support decriminalization and don't see why we should be wasting taxpayer money on this when there are so many other pressing needs for it."
Still working on launching his campaign Web site, Starchild said he is also an advocate of re-opening the city's bathhouses, which have been closed since the 1980s due to the AIDS epidemic. He said it is all part of his philosophy as a Libertarian, though he stressed he is running in the nonpartisan race as a small "l" libertarian.
"I really believe strongly in ideas of freedom and letting people make their own choices in life. I don't see any candidates out there representing that view," he said. "It is a view desperately needed in our country and city. I want to do my part and inject that into the dialogue."
He also argues that due to the city's implementation of ranked choice voting, where voters rank their first and second choice candidates, he could play an important role in who ultimately wins the race. At this time, though, he said he has not decided to support one of his two rivals – incumbent Supervisor Bevan Dufty and attorney Alix Rosenthal – over the other for purposes of ranked choice voting.
"I can easily see a scenario in this race where people pick me as their first choice vote and then their vote would continue to go for Alix or Bevan as their second choice. They wouldn't be jeopardizing anything by voting for me and would send a message," he said. "Hopefully, I will win outright. You can never say never."
This is the second in a series of profiles on the District 8 candidates.