A group of 72 LGBTI organisations have delivered a letter to 13 members of the Washington D.C. City Council calling on them to support an upcoming Bill which would decriminalise sex work in the district.
The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act proposes decriminalising sex work for people over the age of 18, and includes measures to monitor the impact of the law through a dedicated taskforce. At the moment, the text of the proposed Bill repeals the criminal laws against ‘engaging in or soliciting for prostitution’, and removes penalties for managing sex work if it ‘involves no force, fraud, coercion, or any violation of the Prohibition Against Human Trafficking Amendment Act of 2010’.
The letter states: “Criminalizing adults engaging in consensual sex work, often for survival, impedes sex workers’ access to health care services, puts them at risk of physical abuse from clients and police, and increases their vulnerability to exploitation by third parties... The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 is urgently needed to remove this brutal and outdated penalty for consensual sex work. Sex workers need resources, not criminality penalties.”
The letter has been signed by Decrim NY, HIPS, SWOP-USA, Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, and St. James Infirmary, as well as other prominent LGBT and human rights organisations in the USA, including the national ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and the ACLU of the District of Columbia, Black & Pink, the D.C chapter of the Black Youth Project 100, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Positive Women's Network-USA.
Sex Workers Advocates Coalition and the DECRIMNOW DC campaign are also gathering signatures on a petition in support of the Bill.
Many of the supporting organisations have drawn attention to the ways in which the criminalisation of sex work negatively impacts communities of LGBT people and people of colour. The letter goes on to say: “As lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied organizations, we know that the decriminalization of sex work in D.C. is critical to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ community, including by improving public health and decreasing the vulnerability of marginalized sex workers, particularly transgender women of color”.
One of the co-organising chairs of BYP 100 said: “I think especially black people who have had experience with the justice system, or have family who’ve had experience with the system, they know, and it’s easy for them to understand, that when you arrest people, it’s not improving their material conditions in any way. So when we say, ‘We want Council to focus on jobs, education, housing,’ when you arrest someone, you are further marginalizing them.”
SWOP-USA said: "We are thrilled and heartened by the incredible work of DecrimDC, BYP100, SWAC, and all of the other local DC organizations that have made this bill possible. This campaign has been bravely fought by those most directly impacted by sex work criminalization and stigma and the fact that the bill has come so far speaks legions to the fortitude of these organizers and activists. We hope to see this model replicated across the US, and particularly efforts like this that center and amplify those most impacted by policing and violence."