Born in 1951 into a middle class family in São Paulo, Gabriela Leite is the principal activist for sex worker rights in Brazil. Daughter of the counter-culture movements in the 70s, she left her college studies in sociology to work in prostitution. She began organizing with sex workers in the late 1980s in response to the frequent rights abuses she witnessed among her colleagues. She fought for recognition of the profession by deconstructing stigma around prostitution and giving it new meanings. In 1987 she organized the first national meetings of sex workers in Brazil, started participating in the international sex worker movement, and founded the newspaper, “Beijo da Rua” – Kiss from the Street, as a way to circulate new discourses that affirmed women “of the life” as social and political beings. She encouraged the movement to enter into the fight against AIDS by promoting health as a right and a means to citizenship.
Gabriela founded the NGO Davida in the beginning of the 1990s. The organization draws on cultural and communication activities for political advocacy, such as singing and theatre performances and carnival activities to draw public attention to sex worker rights in addition to research and a documentation center on prostitution. In 2005, Davida founded the clothing line Daspu – Of the Whores – as a sustainability strategy. The collections were designed in partnership with professional designers and attract international and national media attention to the catwalk-protests in streets, cabarets, theaters, universities, biennial art exhibits, and international conferences. Gabriela is a social entrepreneur fellow of Ashoka and the author of the book, “Daughter, mother, grandmother and whore” which was adapted for theatre and currently being turned into a feature film. In 2010, she was a congressional candidate of the Green Party, the same political party that worked with Gabriela in 2003 to propose a federal law to decriminalize and regulate prostitution. Her campaign platform defended the strengthening of Brazil’s Universal Health System, civil union for gays, the legalization of abortion, and decriminalization of prostitution. Gabriela did not win, but she also has not stopped her transgressive fight for rights.