um beijo para gabriela


Sending our Kiss to key U.S. sex worker events

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We have received the uplifting news that A Kiss for Gabriela will be shown at both the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Art Festival in May 2013 and at the fifth Desiree Alliance Conference in Las Vegas in July 2013. We are so pleased and proud that A Kiss for Gabriela is being included at these pivotal events in the sex worker rights calendar and that the film is featuring in two weeks time (April 20) at Uniondocs in New York City during an event organized by grassroots groups SWOP-NYC and SWANK.

Organizers of the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Art Festival described A Kiss for Gabriela as a great addition to any festival adding that Gabriela’s loyalty to her convictions is inspirational.” The Festival—founded by sex worker luminary Carol Leigh AKA Scarlot Harlot and now co-directed by Erica Fabulous—has, since 1999, provided a forum for works about sex workers experiences from a rights based perspective. Films featured in the festival provide a refreshing change from stigmatizing “representations of sex workers as … vulnerable, fallen angels… or… callous and ‘used up.’” We are honored to be part of the 2013 line up in San Francisco and proud to be part of a movement that strives to change how sex workers are viewed. Stay tuned for updates about the festival including where A Kiss For Gabriela is placed in the program that will include the Roaming Hookerfest May 13-18 and showings at the Roxie on May 25th.

We also look forward to sharing more about being part of the Arts and Culture program—convened with the help of The Incredible, Edible, Akynos—at the Desiree Alliance Conference (The Audacity of Health: Sex Work, Health, and Politics, July 14th to 19th, 2013 in Las Vegas).

Coming up! NYC area screenings, April 15 to 20

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Spring showings of A KISS FOR GABRIELA are planned across the tri-state area culminating in an evening of films highlighting the rights of sex workers at Uniondocs in Brooklyn. Filmmaker Laura Murray and one of the film’s stars,  journalist Flavio Cruz Lenz Cesar, Gabriela’s husband and editor of the newspaper Beijo da Rua (A Kiss from the Street), will be attending most of the April 2013 screenings to discuss sex worker activism, including how film and social media tactics can promote more informed debate.

Monday April 15 the Global Studies Program at the New School for Social Research will host a screening and discussion beginning at 6.30 pm the at Hirshon Suite, 55 W. 13th St., on the 2nd floor. The Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Queens College will sponsor a lunch time screening at noon on April 16. The International Law Society and IWHR Clinic at CUNY will host a screening and discussion with Laura Murray and Flavio Lenz from 4-5.30 pm on April 16. Wednesday, April 17th the Comparative Literature Department at Princeton University is sponsoring a 7 pm film showing at the Princeton Art Museum.  

The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality will present a screening and panel discussion Thursday April 18 at 6-7.30 pm (at 504 Diana Center, Barnard College). This event will be co-sponsored by the Columbia University’s Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights University Seminar; The Department of Sociomedical Sciences’ Pre-doctoral Training Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Health; and the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

Saturday evening April 20, A KISS FOR GABRIELA will be part of an evening of films  highlighting recent advances in the fight for rights in NY and around the globe at Uniondocs in Brooklyn.  This program–hosted by NYC sex worker rights organizations SWOP-NYC and SWANK–will leave the audience with the knowledge that supporting sex worker rights is pleasurable, fundamental and as simple as blowing a kiss. Other films featured in this action-packed event include SCARLET ROAD, ADVOCATING IN ALBANY and WHORE LOGIC. We anticipate a visitation by the Incredible, Edible, Akynos and the presence of a member of the RedUp team to share about 2013 actions to pressure Albany for the rights of sex workers.

Stay tuned for more details of the screenings!


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On International Women’s Day, we have some good news to celebrate! In the last week, we received news that A KISS FOR GABRIELA has been selected for three international events! The film will premiere in the United States next month simultaneously at two festivals – The Arizona International Film Festival and the Kansas City FilmFest!  In May, it will have it’s premiere in Latin America (outside of Brazil where it premiered at FEMINA last year), at Mujeres en Foco in Buenos Aires – an international festival of women’s films. Gabriela’s inspiring story was also selected for the Women Deliver Cinema Corner  and will be exhibited at the Women Deliver conference  in Malaysia at the end of May. Stay tuned for more details on days and times of screenings!

What to view on International Sex Worker Rights Day?

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In 2001 over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival organized by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (or DMSC), a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of 65,000 sex workers. As a result of this convening and with a desire to acknowledge the collective power of sex workers’ communities, the DMSC proposed that sex workers of all genders and their allies observe March 3rd as “Sex Workers Rights Day.” Since the early 2000s sex workers around the world have celebrated International Sex Worker Rights Day with cultural events, public demonstrations, community pot lucks, and the release of reports about rights.

The DMSC has continued to host ground-breaking festivals, such as the Festival of Pleasure in 2007, and to produce and be the subject of films about the struggles and experiences of sex workers.  A film that provides accessible and compelling information about sex workers in the Sonagachi district of Calcutta and the DMSC is Shohini Ghosh’s Tales of the Night Fairies. This film is our recommendation for March 3 viewing if you cannot find an event nearby. The film’s title is taken from the play Raat Porider Katha–Tales of the Night Fairies–a theatrical work conceived, produced and performed by the women of DMSC. The film itself focuses on five sexworkers – four women and one man – who join the filmmaker/narrator Shohini Ghosh on a journey of storytelling. Tales of the Night Fairies explores the power of collective organizing and resistance while reflecting upon contemporary debates around sex work.

A Pivotal Time for Sex Worker Events in the US

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During our preparation to premiere A KISS FOR GABRIELA in New York this year (stay tuned for dates), we have learned so much about organizing and cultural opportunities in the United States. Key deadlines are just around the corner, so read up, apply and then attend these significant events in the calendar for the rights of sex workers and people in the sex trade. 2013 is a year to “be there, or be square”–some events won’t come around again for another two years.

The eighth biennial San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Art Festival will be held May 18 to 26 this year bringing together the best in performances, workshops, visual arts, political organizing,  and skills sharing for sex worker artists, filmmakers and their allies. The Sex Worker Festival–established in 1999–recognizes and honors prostitutes, dancers, porn performers and other sex workers from diverse communities, who have been dynamic and integral members of arts communities since time immemorial. The festival has recently extended the film submission deadline to March 15 and is seeking films in Spanish, about sex work and parenting, and shorts. We are keeping our fingers crossed that A KISS FOR GABRIELA will be in the program.

The 5th Desiree Alliance Conference entitled The Audacity of Health: Sex Work, Health and Politics will be held July 14 to 19, 2013, in Las Vegas. This conference is a key organizing event in the sex worker rights calendar, providing an unparalleled opportunity for activists (both sex workers and their allies) from all across the country to meet in person and for skills building in harm reduction, research/policy, art/culture, organizing and more. Proposals for presentations and workshops are due March 1, 2013 (an option is available to seek and extension of time should you need) and scholarships applications are due April 1, 2013.

These wonderful events are organized primarily by the volunteer energy of sex workers, people in the sex trade and their allies.

On being a mother and a whore

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The documentary A KISS FOR GABRIELA—a film following sex worker Gabriela Leite’s run for federal office in Brazil—explores a woman’s reclamation of the possibility to be a mother, a respected daughter and a whore. The film’s protagonist Gabriela Leite, the founder of the sex worker rights movement in Brazil, describes herself in her autobiography and throughout the film as a “daughter, mother, grandmother and whore.” When her own mother telephones on election night to congratulate “her puta daughter who stood up for herself” [as Gabriela describes herself], Gabriela sheds tears of appreciation for her mother’s acceptance of her fight for rights.

Even those who are supportive of the rights of sex workers often cannot wrap their heads around the idea that most sex workers are parents and that sex workers are always somebody’s child. Archaic prejudices about the “fallen” or “impure” nature of “the whore” provoke fear that any contact sex workers have with children will sully their “innocence.” Consequently, sex worker parents are stigmatized as bad parents who expose their children to danger. Rachel Aimee in her article “Thoughts on deciding whether or not to tell your kid you’re a sex worker” describes an all too common story concerning one mother—an exotic dancer and nude model—who lost custody of her children because of presumptions in court that her children would be exposed to inappropriate photographic images from her website even though she was scrupulous in keeping her family and work-life separate. The “whore stigma” which is invoked to shame women whether they are sex workers or not, is even more powerful when applied to people who work in the sex trades and those who are profiled as whores, such as transgender women.

Gabriela’s insistence that she is a woman, a mother, a grandmother and a whore is a radical demand for rights of sex workers to be parents and form families, a demand that is shared by sex workers globally. Groups like VAMP—a large collective of thousands of sex workers working in Maharashtra and North Karnataka in India—have created programs that support the children of sex workers, fostering a sense of pride for their mothers who are in sex work. A collective of sex worker parents in the United States have been inspired by VAMP’s work and are producing an anthology of writing and artwork about parenting and sex work featuring the disparate voices of parents with experience in the sex trades, as well as people raised by sex workers. The anthology tentatively titled Pros on Parenting is currently still seeking submissions.

Winning UN Recognition of Sex Work as Work

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In the past two years, key United Nations agencies have released documents affirming the importance of decriminalization to guarantee the rights of sex workers. Much of this material has emerged in the context of health issues, often in regards to HIV/AIDS. In December 2012 the World Health Organization, perhaps the most technically rigorous UN body working on issues pertaining to health and rights, released new guidelines for the prevention and treatment of HIV and other STIs in the context of sex work in partnership with UNAIDS, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Network of Sex Work Projects. Front and center the first “good practice” guideline derived from “common sense, ethics and human rights principles,” recommends that “all countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.” The World Health Organization also advises that governments take extra steps to end violence and discrimination against sex workers through “antidiscrimination laws and regulations” guaranteeing “sex workers’ right to social, health and financial services.”

This approach taken in the new WHO guidelines has been applauded by sex worker rights organizations.

The recognition of sex work as work has been building throughout the UN agencies. During the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. in July 2012, representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) affirmed that sex work is an “economic activity” like other forms of labor referred to in ILO Recommendation 200 concerning HIV/AIDS. Two weeks before the conference the Global Commission on HIV and the Law—an independent commission launched in June 2010 by the United Nations Development Program—released the results of regional consultations about the impact of the law in the context of HIV. This report provides a prodigious amount of evidence about the impact of criminalization on the rights and health of communities of sex workers globally and recommends that sex work be decriminalized. It also recommends that “consensual adult sex work” be seen as a form of work and clearly differentiated from “sexual exploitation” and other forms of abuse. In 2010 the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health reported to the Human Rights Council that criminalization of sex work leads to “[un]safe working conditions, and a lack of recourse to legal remedies for occupational health issues” and that the failure to distinguish between sex work and trafficking in legislation and interventions “increasingly infringes sex workers’ right to health.”

The recognition of sex work as work and calls for decriminalization coming from peak global bodies validate decades of struggle of communities of sex workers globally. However, despite these victories, in many localities sex workers continue to be persecuted by state agents such as the police. In many jurisdictions, such as across the US, legislators are holding firm to their beliefs that sex work should remain criminalized. Worrisome trends towards re-criminalization of sex work in some parts of Europe and the former Soviet states have emerged. Clearly the global fight for rights must continue. The recent acknowledgement of rights of sex workers in the context of HIV is important, but we must resist the temptation to confine our discussion of sex workers rights to disease prevention. This sentiment was beautifully expressed by one of the sex worker organizations cited by the Global Commission on HIV:

When I can work in safe and fair conditions. When I am free of discrimination. When I am free of labels like “immoral” or “victim”. When I am free from unethical researchers. When I am free to do my job without harassment, violence or breaking the law. When sex work is recognised as work. When we have safety, unity, respect and our rights. When I am free to choose my own way. THEN I am free to protect myself and others from HIV.

Empower Foundation, Thailand, Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue, 16–17 February 2011

Finally! World Cup Related News with Sex Workers as Protagonists, not Victims or Problems

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Earlier this month, the sex worker organization, APROSMIG, in Minas Gerais made international news with their initative to offer English classes to sex workers. The news spread rapidly in a variety of news channels in including Fox, ESPN and CBS in the United States and dozens other of blogs and news channels internationally.  It was a welcome shift from the barrage of World Cup and Olympics related news that has focused more on trafficking and sex tourism in which sex workers are written about either as victims of trafficking or sex hungry foreigners, or as vixens akin to the sirens in the Odyssey attracting tourists that fall to moral ruin under their spell. In this case, sex workers made the news because of their initiatve to prepare for the World Cup just like anyone in an industry that will receive tourists  – learning the language. As APROSMIG president and future Fedearl Deputy candidate Cida Viera stated in her interview with CNN, “Across Brazil, lots of businesses in the private sector are getting prepared and making their workers more qualified for the Cup. Well, this is a profession, too”.

Comments under many of the blog posts, particularly in the Brazilian newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo and the CNN post show that stigma related to prostitution continues to be strong along with distaste for the country making the news due to prostitution. The fact that the small story spread so widely and in such a variety of blogs (some poking fun rather than taking it seriously) is also an indication of the way in which stories about sex sell as much as sex itself, and that unfortunately, the jokes about it evidence that prostitution is still far from being recognized as work like any other profession.

However, unlike misguided reports on trafficking or sex tourism which tends to feed crackdowns on the profession, Gabriela herself has commented that this attention is important because it widely spreads positive information about how prostitution is a legal and recognized profession in Brazil, in addition to raising awareness about the existence of prostitute organizations such as APROSMIG that work to protect sex workers’ rights. In this sense, it is welcome and worth sharing, tweeting, and reflecting.

Ending Violence Against Sex Workers, the Tenth Anniversary of “December 17”

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Today sex workers, their allies, friends, families and communities will come together to commemorate December 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This year December 17 has a special resonance for two reasons. In September 2012 Robyn Few–one of founders of the International Day back in 2003–died after several years of living her life with cancer. Organizations in the United States such as SWOP-NYC and SWANK intend to commemorate her and many others in an event this evening Stories of Sorrow, Stories of Resilience. Robyn left us before her time, in part because she delayed seeking care when she became ill because she feared the cost since she was uninsured. Robyn Few was not a victim of violence, but her lack of access to adequate health care is an example of how sex workers cannot access social services. This theme has emerged as a central one as we approach the tenth anniversary of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex workers. SWOP-NYC and SWANK note, for example, that violence faced by sex workers can come in the “form of physical and sexual assault, policing, poverty, stigma, discrimination and the other ways in which marginalized communities face violence.”

Similarly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two Spirit and allied organizations are also marking the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers by releasing a statement recognizing that “violence against sex workers and people in the sex trades is an LGBTQ issue, and we stand committed to ending it.” These organizations detail in their statement the “systemic homophobia and transphobia, racism, disproportionate poverty and homelessness, widespread discrimination, and an absence of pathways to immigration status, frequently limit the economic and survival options of LGBTQ people, particularly LGBTQ youth and adults of color and transgender people. These conditions not only inform and can contribute to the involvement of LGBTQ people in the sex trades, whether by choice, circumstance, or coercion – they also increase the vulnerability to violence and abuse against LGBTQ people in the sex trades.” Police and policing patterns only exacerbate these problems the organizations explain because “police and other officials abuse both LGBTQ people and people who are or are perceived to be involved in the sex trades. LGBTQ people involved in the sex trades are among those most at risk of violence, yet often face indifference when reporting violence. We recognize that profiling of LGBTQ youth of color and transgender people for prostitution-related offenses remains pervasive in many communities and harms all LGBTQ people, exposing us to violence at the hands of police, prison officials, and immigration authorities.”

On the tenth anniversary of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, we join our voices in calling for an end to violence specifically and an end to injustice more broadly. Only rights can stop the wrongs experienced by sex workers and people in the sex trade.

We Are Dancers: Exotic dancers’ grassroots organizing

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The history of activism for the rights of exotic dancers in the United States is rich, complex and powerful. Dancers have organized, via groups such as the Exotic Dancers’ Alliance, challenging exploitative “stage fees” imposed by club management and their misclassification as “independent contractors” by employers wishing to avoid paying work-related benefits. The documentary Live Nude Girls Unite chronicled some of these organizing efforts and is an essential part of the sex worker rights film canon. Exotic dancing, unlike many other kinds of sex work in the US, is for the most part legal in most states. Consequently, dancers have had greater success via the courts in terms of defending their rights.

However, despite the positive outcome of a recent lawsuit, dancers know that clubs still find ways to extract extra profit from them and may resist their efforts to organize for their rights. Support from organized labor groups has been tepid. Dancing is a legal form of service work but only one US union represents dancers. Gendered, racialized and prejudicial stereotyping of dancers diminishes public understanding of the real issues faced by these workers that go far beyond stage fees (even though this concern is clearly important).

An all volunteer collective called We Are Dancers has embarked on a series of steps in NYC to build community and share information as part of a comprehensive strategy to address these concerns. We Are Dancers has already created a website and hopes, if their Indiegogo fundraiser is successful, to translate “know your rights” booklets into Spanish, Portuguese and Russian and distribute this material widely. A key organizer with the project, former dancer Rachel Aimee, explains on her blog  that “it’s obvious that there’s no simple solution to the question of how to secure labor rights for dancers. That’s why We Are Dancers is taking the approach of creating and distributing resources by and for dancers. Our goal is to provide information and support to empower dancers to make their own decisions about whether and how to take action against labor violations in strip clubs. And, if we can raise the $5000 we need to complete our outreach project, we will be able to make these resources available to hundreds—if not thousands—of dancers across the city.” The We Are Dancers online fundraising campaign is currently open and the perks available could make ideal gifts for all the folks in your life who support labor-rights, progressive causes, and/or strong, community-organizers in high heels.

For more information about organizing by and for dancers in the US and beyond visit Bayswan’s archive, read the November 2012 article by Melissa Grant Gira in The Altantic and Rachel Aimee’s blog.