Feminists, sex workers
march against Prop 35
by David-Elijah Nahmod
About 50 people, including feminists, sex workers, and their supporters, staged a march in the Castro recently to urge people to vote against Proposition 35 on the November ballot.
The measure, which was drafted in part by former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly, would increase penalties for human trafficking. Critics say that Prop 35 has no funding mechanism. They also contend that its language is too general and vague, and that it has the potential to target innocent parties.
The Friday, October 19 march was also in support of sex workers and included speeches. Participants handed out fliers and condoms.
Afterward, the group of male and female sex workers and supporters marched down Castro Street, turning right on 18th Street. Patrons in front of the Q and Edge bars applauded the No on Prop 35 signage that the marchers carried.
The march was organized by Carmen Simon, who identifies as a queer lesbian. Simon preferred not to reveal whether she herself has done sex work.
"We need legislation around child sex trafficking," Simon said. "A lot of people think that sex work is dirty, but you never know who might be doing it. It could be your friends and neighbors. We are good people, and we don't support child sex trafficking."
Participants in the march included ACT UP member Cyd Nova, who serves as the harm reduction coordinator at St. James Infirmary, and Stephany Ashley, who is the infirmary's programs director. St. James is a peer-based health and safety clinic for current and former sex workers and their families. Services include primary medical counseling, holistic services, and a hormone program for transgender patients.
Ashley warned that as written, Prop 35 could target consenting adult sex workers.
"We support a comprehensive, victim-centered approach to combat trafficking, providing services," she said. "We believe that sex workers are allies in combating trafficking, because we can see exploitation when it occurs."
Nova is a trans man. "Trans people are often profiled as sex workers, even if they're not sex workers," he said.
"Sex workers are still being arrested," Ashley said. "Condoms have been used to get people to plea bargain. We want to stop the police from using condoms as evidence. Feminism isn't just about the right to choose an abortion, it's about choice in all its forms."
The San Francisco Police Department was criticized earlier this year after the Bay Area Reporter found contradictory policies within the department over the seizure of condoms from people suspected of prostitution. Police Chief Greg Suhr later announced that condoms would no longer be confiscated as evidence of prostitution by officers and issued a bulletin to department personnel. Condoms could still be photographed.
During the rally, it was pointed out that the SFPD had agreed to a six-month moratorium on using condoms as evidence, but that condoms were still being used as evidence in other Bay Area counties. (The SFPD has not confirmed the moratorium directly with the Bay Area Reporter .)
"Temporary is not good enough," said Bryndis Tobin, referring to the SFPD policy during a brief but passionate speech during the rally. "People need to be safe. It's not worth people dying or becoming disabled. It needs to stop forever."
Added Carol Leigh, "Condoms have been confiscated. This interferes with your ability to protect yourself." Leigh is well known as the "Scarlot Harlot." A lifelong advocate for sex workers' rights, she coined the phrase "sex work" in 1978.
As the rally drew to a close, Tobin handed out sandwich bags. Each bag contained three condoms.
"People are starting to be afraid to carry condoms, and that means people will get sick and/or die," she said. "Please pledge and promise to carry at least three condoms with you at all times and encourage others to do so, to protest this stupidity."