British LGBTI organizations have been challenged to speak up for sex workers at a meeting organized by the English Collective of Prostitutes.
But when a group called Queer Strike ‘named and shamed’ LGBTI organizations who they said were refusing to help decriminalize sex work in the country, the picture they gave was misleading.
GSN have spoken to the organizations they said wouldn’t back their campaign. But we found in most cases it simply wasn’t part of those organizations’ remits. This is a particular issue under British charity law, which means they have to stick to their stated ‘charitable aims’.
A spokesman for Stonewall, Britain’s leading gay lobby organization, told us: ‘We only campaign on issues where there is a clear legal discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
‘With this issue – which impacts on all people, regardless of their sexual orientation – we wouldn’t take a public position or back (or indeed oppose!) such a campaign.’
The Albert Kennedy Trust, an LGBTI youth homeless charity, responded by saying that it ‘is not a political lobbying organization and does not comment on legal matters. Our commitment is to the protection of young LGBT people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.’
The London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard took it so seriously they raised the issue at a trustees meeting.
But a spokesman told us simply: ‘We are a helpline not a campaigning organization.’
And leading UK sexual health organization, Terence Higgins Trust (THT) pointed out that they already had policy on decriminalization.
In a recent report ‘Sexual Health: 12 things government can do’ they argue sex work needs to be made healthier and safer, and specifically identify criminalization as part of the issue.
In a recent submission to Amnesty International, THT backed Amnesty’s call for decriminalization. Their reason for not signing a Queerstrike letter to the government on the issue was one of style – not substance.
But despite this distraction, the lobby meet, chaired by Member of Parliament John McDonnell, did manage to look at the substance of the problem.
It brought together activists from organizations dedicated to the defense of sex workers from across Europe, including France, Germany, Sweden and Ireland.
Speaker after speaker shared similar stories – saying sex work may be a preferred option for some; but for many it is a basic response to economic stress brought about by poverty and discrimination.
Increasingly, states were creating the conditions in which sex work became the only option left for individuals – and then penalizing those who offered sexual services.
A recent wave of initiatives across Europe attempting to impose the Swedish model – of criminalizing clients – would not protect women and minority groups engaged in sex work: but it would make their lives more difficult and, in many instances, more dangerous.