Social Solidarity in Practice: Supporting Sex Workers During the Coronavirus

By: Carmen Vázquez

I sit at my computer at a place called the Larches in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. I stare out the window at sun dappled larches and evergreens swaying towards the sun. 

It is my Coronavirus place of Quarantine. I worry myself sick over my family and friends in my beloved New York City and Texas. I rage at the ineptness and hubris of the President of the United States.

The coronavirus does not discriminate, and we know that elders and people with underlying medical conditions are at highest risk. But there is another population at high risk.

I think of the sex workers who died during the AIDS pandemic and those who will die now because they’re not getting any checks from government and their customers aren’t coming back. How many of them will be joining the ranks of the homeless and most at risk? Like their gay brothers before them 38 years ago, social stigma will deny them compassion, resources, hope and their lives. These are not nameless people. We know them. Those who are queer and transgender and people of color wear enough layers of stigma to drown in an ocean of xenophobia that existed long before the virus. We need to protect them.

I read an article by Kevin Fong that explores the challenge of how we are going to interact with one another as this crisis unfolds. He writes of practicing social solidarity instead of social isolation.

I have a fantasy of all sex workers and all the homeless and all the people living with HIV and all their families and friends linking arms around the white house wearing masks and gloves and red coronavirus hats shouting shame to the naked emperor! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame.

My fantasy will take a while to realize. In the here and now, we need to find ways of expressing social solidarity with sex workers. We need to get them money and food.

We need to support networks working with them. Woodhull Freedom Foundation is working with SWOP Behind Bars to:

  • Support a 24-hour hotline for sex workers in crisis
  • Help sex workers who are incarcerated or newly released from prison

There are sex workers in your own networks. Find them and/or their advocates. If you’re home, share food or clothing as you are able. If you’re quarantined away from home, send money.

Take care of yourselves and your families and elders but please, also take a moment to support those whose voices will not be heard, whose lives, already devalued, will count only as a statistic.

Social isolation is what me must do to protect ourselves.

Social solidarity with our sex workers and others whom this pandemic threatens is what we can choose to do.

Give now to the Woodhull Sex Worker Fund. Your donations will ONLY be used by sex workers and for sex workers. All donations, minus processing fees, will be directed IN FULL to SWOP Behind Bars.


Carmen Vázquez is the Co-Chair of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation Board of Directors. Carmen was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Harlem, New York. She is a graduate of the City University of New York with a Master’s in education. Among her many accomplishments, Carmen was the Founding Director of the Women’s Building in San Francisco, helped found the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center in San Francisco, and the LGBT Health & Human Services Network, a coalition of over 55 organizations and groups in New York advocating for LGBT Health and Human Services. 

 

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