Austerity Hits Home – DC cuts services for sex workers and trans people

I recently started working at HIPS. Working on a harm reduction and anti-oppression philosophy, HIPS assists thousands of sex workers with peer support groups, crisis counseling, safer sex workshops, help accessing services, a drop-in center, syringe exchange, HIV testing, a clothing closet, and more. Every weekend night until 5am, HIPS runs a van that gives out condoms, hot chocolate, referrals and other support to people working the strolls. Plus, they’ve been amazing allies to the broader (non-sex worker) trans community, too. I was honored to be working with them. I have so much respect for HIPS and the work they do. As someone who has used their services and been a volunteer there, I know they are a powerful resource in my communities.

Unfortunately, I’ve already been laid off. The local government decided to cut funding for social programs instead of raising taxes on the top 5% of earners and we lost a crucial grant.

Isn’t it interesting how, during an economic downturn, the government is quick to abruptly discontinue funding to an agency dedicated to supporting sex workers, and whose major constituents are poor Black and Latin@ trans women, but refuses to raise taxes on the ultra-rich?
I’m not surprised, of course. But this one just really hit me directly. In addition to my position, HIPS had to cut peer education classes, a program manager, and will no longer be doing the outreach van on Thursday nights. We were given no notice at all. HIPS has received this grant every year since 1995, so no one saw this coming.

As my friends know, I’ve been dealing with some serious mental health issues. This news has been especially hard on me. I put a lot of my heart and soul into the program and clients I worked with. I was just finishing getting settled and beginning to feel confident in my position there.

For the brief time I worked there, it was wonderful. I got to use and develop all of my favorite skills: designing and writing resource manuals, one-on-one counseling, talking about anal sex, advocating clients through the legal system, leading workshops, and teaching trans women about empowerment, self-love, and the importance of using lube. I was working in my own community (trans sex workers) and my own neighborhood (Northeast/Brentwood). Also, I felt very supported by the HIPS family.

So I’m pretty devastated. I do have my other job at the coffee shop. I’ll survive. But losing this job was a huge set-back to my already-slowly-recovering mental health. Having relief given, and then taken away so soon after, was also especially harsh.

I woke up this morning and felt completely unable to get up. I was overcome with feelings of panic, despair and depression. This was also the first time in a very long time that I had serious thoughts about hurting myself. I had a clear idea of how I was going to cause myself physical pain. That is something that (even during panic attacks) doesn’t usually happen.

I took the day to spend with and think about loved ones. I was able to jump back from this crisis so far. Seriously, to the people (especially at HIPS and my sisters) who stepped in to check on me and sent me supportive messages: I love you all so much!

***

HIPS will go on providing really important services, and I’m sure they’ll continue doing an amazing job with the resources they do have. But these funding cuts just gave one more trans woman a choice between poverty and sex work. This time it’s me. (Guess what I’m going to choose?)

I basically just went from being in a position where I was able to help my community get out of poverty, to being another person who will need to access those services.

When the government cuts funding to social programs, we all suffer. The whole city is negatively impacted when sex workers aren’t getting condoms or HIV testing or counseling and all the other stuff HIPS gives.

I know HIPS will be relying more on volunteers than ever, so come sign up with me! Both I and HIPS appreciate the support.

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3 comments

  1. Hey baby. So sorry to hear about all this. Totally hitting home. I’m sure that after the worst of this storm passes, you’ll make something astonishingly fantastic out of the experience. For now, though, just being gentle with yourself and feeling the feelings … it sucks, but it’s the way to go. Also, feel free to chat/call/email if you’re ever in the desperate spot and don’t know what to do. Have car, will help.

  2. There’s still plenty worth doing. I just have to remind myself sometimes, that’s all.
    yes yes yes

    this is my: If i were there I’d hold you in my arms and say YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

  3. Catharine and Bastian: I love you both!!!

    Catharine, you’re right — I did make something amazing out of the experience, already. =)

    Like I said, I bounced back faster than I thought I would. Probably cause I have really smart, lovely friends like y’all. <3

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