On April 16th the University of New Hampshire brought me, a sex worker and activist who lectures across the US and internationally, from California to participate in a mini-conference on sex worker rights sponsored by the Women's Studies Department, the Sustainability Institute, the Diversity Student Coalition, and other university programs and organizations. I was excited to meet and listen to people who worked on projects like "No Condoms as Evidence" in New York, an important effort to the safety not only of sex workers, but of other marginalized people (people of colour, LGBT people, people living in poverty). I got to hear multiple people's experience of sex work from different areas of the business (not just prostitution), along with activists from the Red Umbrella Project and the NYC Anti-Violence Project. It was a day of telling my truth, and being heard, and it felt amazing to frame my experiences for a university audience and address intersectional issues inherent in sex work within our culture.
Typically, discussions about sex work avoid having sex workers at all present to speak. Sometimes, if there are sex workers, they are only legal forms of sex work, because it's scary to come out as a sex worker when judges say that sex workers can't be raped, when cops are more likely to violate you than to take a report of violence from you. Having a safe space to speak out is invaluable, from a personal perspective, from an academic perspective, and from a cultural perspective. "Nothing about us without us" is often the cry, but it goes so often unheard. UNH made sure we were heard, and felt safe doing so. They should be thanked, and held as a model.
When I started this petition, it was because State Representative Joe Sweeney, R-N.H., had started a petition of his own demanding "answers" about why a "prostitute from California" had been flown out to speak at this conference. After he spoke to me, and read this, he took down his petition and apologized, agreeing that sex workers should be the ones speaking on their experiences. However, now the Americans for Prosperity are demanding the university release private correspondance that would include releasing the legal names of those who spoke. In a country where having your legal name outed can be physically dangerous for trans people and sex workers alike, and where sex workers (even those who have moved on) can risk losing their children, being denied other employment, and having rape cases ignored because of their work, this is a violent act and is not necessary.
As the person who is most frequently being named in this attack as a "prostitute from California", I am furious that the Americans for Prosperity are seeking to use this as an opportunity to slutshame me for their own gain. In a state that prides itself on personal freedom, I think this is a shameful example of greed and power-mongering, as well as being inaccurate and rumour-creation. I am a sex educator and a sex worker who was asked to speak because I am a sex work activist and have experience in multiple areas of the industry. I have spoken at other universities, including USF, UCB and soon, Regent's College in London. I was asked as someone who has experience in workers rights and how they relate to sex work, because I was the right person to speak. This is not a case of "flying out prostitutes from all over" frivolously. This is a case of a university paying the bare expenses for a speaker- travel, hotel, and food at the university canteen, which is standard practice for every other type of speaker.
In response, I'd love to get one signature per dollar spent (plus a few more) to ensure that sex workers actually got to speak for their own experiences when discussing the intersection of sex work, worker rights, privilege, and capitalism. Will you help me thank UNH for giving sex workers like me a voice when so many would rather silence us?