“These Kinds of People”: How and Why We Must Support Asian Sex Workers
by Sammy Rei Schwarz
March 24, 2021
“They were not these kinds of people,” replied the former neighbor of Xiaojie Tan, owner of Young’s Asian Massage Parlor, in response to reports that the Atlanta shooter may have been purchasing sexual services at her business. “They were good, honest people.”
When I read these words in the Washington Post, a familiar pain pierced my gut. The implication was clear: people like me—Asian sex workers—are neither good nor honest. As an Asian American woman in the sex industry, I’m accustomed to the prejudice most people hold towards this kind of work, but it never gets easier to stomach.
While many share the grief of this tragedy, Asian women in the sex trade bear the emotional trauma disproportionately.
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The Clients & Sexuality in Social Work, Community Engagement and Justice, Harm Reduction, Mental Health, Media and Social Justice Caucus, API Caucus, and Community Engagement and Justice Caucuses of Columbia School of Social Work present Sex Work X Social Work: a series of panels that explore activism, organizing, education and support surrounding Sex Workers and Sex Worker’s rights. Topics will range from culturally competent Mental Healthcare, Mutual Aid Funds and Community Organizing, and needed policy changes towards a goal of decriminalizing sex work.
Tuesday, April 13th 7-8 EST: Health and Mental Health Care
Wednesday, April 14th 7-8 EST: Policy and Decriminalization
** I'll be speakingon Thursday: April 15th7-8 EST Community Organizing and Mutual Aid
If you have a Columbia UNI, RSVP here: https://forms.gle/pDBq7xfeHmRL3xor7
If you don’t have a Columbia UNI, RSVP here: https://forms.gle/RQYnBkz4LUE2NzSk6
Support our event and purchase merchandise! All proceeds will go to compensating panelists: https://www.bonfire.com/.../sex-work-x-social-work-sw2.../
ZOOM LINK TO BE ANNOUNCED
People in the sex trades organizing for labor and human rights face multiple and overlapping barriers. Sex worker and survivor organizers face categorical criminalization and stigmatization that dramatically impede access to funding, digital platforms, and physical space. Worker-survivor organizers often organize under surveillance by police, by clients and other members of the public, and by private corporations and institutions, making secrecy and identity-obscuring tactics a requirement of the work. These tactics in turn make base building and information-sharing difficult and sometimes even impossible. Added to that difficulty is the difficulty of organizing with a cohort that is chronically deprived of financial and social support, making precarity and trauma the norm. Nonetheless, sex workers persist, as they have for at least a century in the United States, in building movements, pursuing policy goals, and advocating against our own marginalization and exclusion.
Informal, Criminalized, Precarious: Sex Workers Organizing Against Barriers brings organizers together in a space that simultaneously support their work and increase public understanding of a rarely-understood set of issues. Organizers will have the opportunities to share tactics with each other in both public-facing and closed community events, and will have access to an institutional platform that acknowledges the significance of their struggle, how it is interlocked with all struggles for social justice, and how sex worker movements have contributed to movement-building at large. We additionally aim to archive and publish a number of these talks and to make them accessible through closed captioning and transcription. An essential element of this acknowledgement will be financial remuneration, through the provision of honoraria, that is equitable in light of the expertise that sex worker organizers are being asked to share, expertise that has been acquired painstakingly and often at great cost.
By necessity, sex worker organizers have instituted numerous resistance strategies in order to build movements while largely remaining unbanked, un-funded, excluded from communications and financial platforms, excluded from social services and social networks, excluded from most institutions, and unwelcome or actively policed in public spaces. Universities by contrast are understood as institutional arbiters of knowledge production and have a system for rewarding that knowledge production which is utterly distant from the system in which sex worker and survivor organizors labor.
Anti-whore stigma is deeply ingrained into society, and by extension, the Internet. It is readily found in policy, code, and automated decision-making. But a global movement of sex workers is striking back to resist the stigma-fueled ways that big tech understands and regulates sex and to imagine alternative ethical frameworks for sex, work, and sex work on the Internet.
This webinar series will bring sex workers into conversation with designers, academics, policy-makers, regulators, media, and tech companies to draw attention to issues plaguing sex workers online, including: content moderation, deplatforming, algorithmic profiling, surveillance, discrimination, data security, access barriers, and design justice. Because discussions of sex work always exist as part of broader conversations about criminalization and labour, this series developed out of a series of community learning circles and the cumulative knowledge and experiences of sex worker organizers. The broader conference focuses on both barriers and enablers to organizing grassroots movements for labor rights.
Featured Speakers and facilitators include: Sinnamon Love, Daisy Ducati, Yin Q., Melissa Gira Grant, Chibundo Egwuatu, Gabriella Garcia, Zahra Stardust, Danielle Blunt, Lorelei Lee, Melissa Gira Grant, Milcah, Maitresse Madeline and femi babylon, and speakers from Whose Corner is It Anyway? More to come!
Event Schedule (in EST):
Only speakers cameras and microphones will be enabled, please use safety and security practices that work best for you.
The conference will be facilitated by: