Different Avenues, a local organization advocating on behalf of young people — particularly GLBT youth — affected by homelessness, HIV and violence, released a report in May titled Move Along: Policing Sex Work in D.C. Of those surveyed for the report, nearly 40 percent identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, compared to about 22 percent who identified as heterosexual. About a third listed themselves as transgender. Though there were obvious limitations to the report’s demographic components, the report confirmed anecdotal evidence that GLBT people constitute a disproportionately large segment of local sex workers.
Accordingly, as $pread Magazine, a volunteer-driven, New York-based quarterly focused on the sex industry, prepares to come to Washington with the aim of politicizing prostitution, Cyndee Clay, director of another local organization, Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), says the GLBT community has reason to take notice.
”Homophobia can force some people to turn to sex work as a means of employment,” Clay says. ”We’ve worked with young people who entered the sex trade when their parents threw them out of the house for being gay. There are a lot of intersections. The GLBT community was looked at for so long as being sexually deviant. Sex workers still are.”
Both Different Avenues and HIPS are helping to sponsor the $pread event, ”Grind the Vote,” Wednesday, July 30, at Be Bar, 1318 Ninth St. NW, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. The fundraiser, with a suggested sliding-scale donation of $5 to $10, promises burlesque, strip-tease, dancing, DJs and more, to raise awareness for sex workers’ political issues and to encourage voter registration.
”There are laws in D.C. that negatively effect sex workers, like ‘prostitution-free zones,”’ says Clay. ”That law, in and of itself, has a direct effect on them. It means being transgender and walking down the street could get you arrested.
”[This event is] not necessarily about one set of policies, but about getting sex workers to think about getting involved in the process. That’s how change happens.”