prison abolition

Chicago in Solidarity to End Violence Against Sex Workers: Resist the Swedish Model!

So, I live in Chicago now and I want to promote this important event I helped organize. I encourage folks to check out the original page at http://chicagodecriminalizenow.wordpress.com. [Updated, 7/20: Reportback from the demo added!]

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When: Friday, July 19th, 6:30pm central time
Where: 
Consulate General of Sweden (150 N Michigan Ave, Chicago)‎
What: Rally to demand justice for murdered sex workers and an end to all policies criminalizing sex work
Social Media: #JusticeForJasmine #JusticeForDora #StigmaKills
To RSVP: e-mail chicagodecriminalizenow@gmail.com
Global Facebook event: International Day of Protest against the violent Abuse and Murder of Sex Workers
Allies Welcome!!

via jasmineanddora.wordpress.com:

On July 19th, 2013, people are gathering across the globe to protest against violence against sex workers.

Following the murders of Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine on the 9th and 11 of July 2013, sex workers, their friends, families, and allies are coming together to demand an end to stigma, criminalisation, violence and murders. In the week since the two tragedies occurred, the feelings of anger, grief, sadness and injustice – for the loss of Dora and Jasmine, but also for the senseless and systemic murders and violence against sex workers worldwide – have brought together people in more 36 cities from four continents who agreed to organise demos, vigils, and protests in front of Turkish and Swedish embassies or other symbolic places. JOIN US on Friday the 19th and stand in solidarity with sex workers and their loved ones around the world! Justice for Dora! Justice for Jasmine! Justice for all sex workers who are victims of violence!

via http://jasmineanddora.wordpress.com/new-york/:

As the sex trade becomes an ever more important part of how neoliberal economies handle the poorest and most marginalized, violence against sex workers – particularly against transgender and immigrant women – has become a tragic epidemic. Please join us this Friday, where we will be rallying in solidarity with sex workers all over the world to commemorate two women, Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine, who brutally lost their lives last week in Turkey and Sweden.

Despite being organized at the last minute and many sex workers and allies currently being in Las Vegas for the Desiree Alliance Conference, it is still important for Chicagoans to demonstrate solidarity with the international call for a day of action for sex worker justice.

As the cases of Dora and Jasmine show, the criminalization of sex work is a global problem that is literally killing our communities. It takes global solidarity to combat this kind of systemic, legitimized, state-sanctioned violence.

Why the Swedish Consulate?

Many people interested in sex workers’ rights have heard of the so-called “Swedish model” or the “Nordic model” — a strategy aimed at decriminalizing some aspects of selling sex, while increasing the criminalization of buying sex. The goal of such laws is to eradicate sex work by “ending demand,” – presenting it as a more “humane” (or even “feminist”) response. While Turkey has an extremely high death rate for sex workers and transgender women, it is also important to challenge the growing number of people (including here in Illinois — see below) who want to follow the Swedish example of pushing ill-informed policies that give stricter punishment for the purchasing of sex. As the tragic loss of Jasmine shows, this false alternative is just another form of violence against sex workers.

This model is not a kinder, gentler alternative to arresting and giving heavy sentences to sex workers. In reality, these laws haven’t eliminated demand. They have only made things worse for sex workers, especially those already most vulnerable — street workers, transgender women (who are often profiled as sex workers even if they aren’t), homeless/street-based young people, undocumented immigrants, etc.

People will continue to do what they need to do in order to survive, and should never be punished or stigmatized for how they do so. By conflating all forms of sex work with violence or human trafficking (which is not the same thing as sex work) or calling sex work ‘sexual slavery’, proponents of “End Demand” policies erase the agency and autonomy of people who chose sex work. Even by criminalizing clients, End Demand denies the reality that sex workers and our clients can have consensual relationships. Far from being feminist, proponents of End Demand are trying to legislate what we can and cannot do with our bodies.

Why Chicago?

Because “End Demand” policies are coming here — in fact, they already are here. Almost anyone who rides the CTA or drives along the highway has seen prominent ads purchased by End Demand Illinois, an organization pushing (somewhat successfully) for “Swedish model” type legislation in our state. (For further critique of the End Demand ad campaign, check out this from the Sex Workers Organizing Project-Chicago.) Some of these laws, advertising campaigns, and the policies they are lobbying for have already had direct, negative impacts on the lives of sex workers in Chicago and across the state. We don’t want to see the very same laws that contributed to the death of Jasmine in Sweden come here, or anywhere. Now is the time to soundly reject these policies and demand full decriminalization.

More on why the “End Demand” or “Swedish” model is dangerous…

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Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

A friend asked to see my thesis, so I found a copy. I spent over a year and a half writing this in 2008-2010. Some of the writing was taken from pieces even older than that. This is the first time I’ve looked at it in a year or two, and I’m surprisingly still pretty fond of it! It’s especially kind of fascinating in light of my involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and linking that back to my work with the DC Trans Coalition and trans-centric organizing more broadly.

I decided to share some of it, since only a couple people have read it so far (and I’ve promised to share it with a lot of folks but never followed up). Given that it’s a thesis, it’s slightly more academic than my usual writing, but I tried to write as accessibly as I could. Here’s the Abstract, and the Introduction and Overview (the first 20ish pages of the entire thesis, which contains a summary of most of the rest) are below the cut. The whole thing is around 250 pages. Perhaps I will eventually get around to sharing the rest someday! As I do, I will post links on the Table of Contents below. :)

Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

Goddard College
June 2010

Abstract

This paper explores notions of identity, gender, and social justice by delving into the histories and politics of trans communities in north america. The author explores how trans people have actively built communities around shared experiences, and how these communities both contribute to and benefit from engaging in struggles for social and economic justice. She urges broader progressive, radical, and feminist movements not to ignore how forces such as cis supremacy and transphobia situate oppression, and thus how we organize resistance to it. She passionately develops her own vision for a movement that is both capable of realizing a participatory gender system and grounded in a shared ethics of total liberation.

The author argues that academic studies of trans people have largely neglected trans people’s own agency in shaping our identities and communities. She claims that medical, psychiatric, feminist, and queer accounts of trans issues have all so far failed to critically examine the material conditions of trans people’s lives or recognize the diverse strategies we have created to transform those conditions. She reexamines these histories, with a focus on the participation of poor trans women of color and other marginalized voices, in order to give context to her own experiences of embodiment and political action.

The project also discusses how trans liberation activists will fail if they focus only on fighting “transphobia” without analyzing the ways in which other institutions and systems – such as the state and white supremacy – also shape trans experiences. The author argues that trans praxis must be grounded in our everyday lived experiences, and thus must also account for the ways in which differing privileges and oppressions intersect in our selves. She does this with detailed accounts of trans people’s interactions with policing and incarceration, the politics of hate crime legislation, her own engagement with doctors and government bureaucracies, the stigma of mental illness and sex work, and much more. Throughout the work, she blends personal narrative, theory, and research to explore the ethics of gender self-determination, her own identity as a genderqueer transsexual woman, and her involvement in organizing for collective empowerment in trans communities.

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(1) Everyone Deserves Safe Work Places. (2) Self-Defense is a Human Right.

Two things.

The DC Trans Coalition released summary findings from the first phase of our ongoing Needs Assessment Project. Click the link to read the full four-page document, and see the press release below the cut or at our website. Please read it. We’ve put a lot of work into this project, and the information is extremely important.

I’d like to highlight one point. Over half of all 108 trans people surveyed marked the trans sex work stroll as a place that is central to their identity as a trans person in the District. The percentage is even higher for the trans women of color who participated. When asked about it, almost all described the (now heavily gentrified) stroll as a place where they hang out with friends, distribute resources, and make sure everyone there is safe from harm.

What does it tell us if one of the primary, tangible spaces where trans people (especially women of color) create communities and build networks of mutual support is also one of the most heavily policed and criminalized places in the world? And what if that place is also the primary work environment for many people within those communities?

Next.

In Minneapolis, a trans woman of color was attacked with racist and transphobic slurs by a stranger. A brawl ensued when the stranger, a white cis man, attacked her and her friends. The attacker was killed somehow, and now that woman is in jail facing criminal charges. This is the same criminal “justice” system that institutionally disadvantages youth, people of color, low income people, trans people, and feminine presenting people.

The woman’s name is CeCe McDonald. The Trans Youth Support Network has organized a campaign to rally around her. If you’re in the Twin Cities, join them. They are also raising money to make sure she can afford a lawyer that will help get her a fairer trial. Visit their site at Support CeCe McDonald! and show solidarity with working class trans communities who are targeted by the prison industrial complex!
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An Anarchist in the Capitol: Thoughts on Identity Politics, Reform, Trans Liberation, and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

I spent the past month or so working with the National Center for Transgender Equality. I helped coordinate logistics for their annual Policy Conference and Lobby Day. It was a wonderful (if at times stressful!) opportunity to gain useful skills while doing meaningful work with an organization I respect. I also met lots of great people!

I’m back to being marginally-employed again, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC — keep reading for explanation) and my involvement in it.

I didn’t enter “the workforce” until I was 21. Before that, I was mostly involved in black/grey market economies of various sorts. When I have been formally employed, it has mostly been either in service industries like making coffee or within nonprofit industries — first, as a case manager on the abortion hotline, briefly as a client advocate for sex workers, and then at NCTE.

While I am definitely part of and implicated in the NPIC, I have tried to remain critical about the strengths and weaknesses of the nonprofit model, and what nonprofit work can and cannot do. In short, nonprofit work can be valuable, but ultimately it can’t bring the truly revolutionary change this planet, and all of us, nees to survive.

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Unpacking the Numbers: Racism, Poverty and the Response to Anti-LGBTQ Hate Crimes in D.C.

originally published as a guest column in Metro Weekly

As a survivor of violence and a lesbian trans woman in a world that treats my identity as delusional or deceptive, I understand fear. I also understand the growing concern about the rise in reported hate crimes in D.C. Despite the Metropolitan Police Department’s failure to track anti-trans violence, it’s safe to say that many such incidents target trans people.

The numbers upset me, and they don’t even include cases that police fail to report, or that survivors fear reporting: undocumented immigrants who fear they’ll be deported, sex workers who fear they’ll be arrested, trans people who fear what the police might do when they find out that their ID card and appearance don’t match.

According to MPD’s statistics, from 2008 to 2009 anti-LGB hate crimes rose the most in Wards 7 and 8, encompassing the poorest neighborhoods in D.C. I have heard commentary from LGBTQ people implicitly or explicitly blaming “black churches” or “black people” for encouraging a climate of violence in these neighborhoods — completely erasing LGBTQ communities of color, especially those who are part of faith traditions.

Before we allow such racist nonsense to continue, we should ask ourselves a few questions.

First, with such a small sample size, are these numbers statistically significant? Biased crimes based on sexual orientation reported in Wards 7 and 8 rose from seven in 2008 to 10 in 2009. Is an increase of three reported crimes, comparing only two years, enough to warrant what the MPD calls a “marked shift”? While surely even one hate crime is too many, we should be wary of scapegoating these neighborhoods based on such limited data.

Second, are the figures accurate? Wards 7 and 8 are among the most heavily policed areas of the city. Perhaps the higher number of reported crimes is due more to disproportionate policing than disproportionate trans/homophobia.

But even if there are more incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in Wards 7 and 8, is it reasonable to assume that people in these neighborhoods are “more trans/homophobic,” or are other factors in play? Many hate crimes start off as other crimes, such as muggings. With D.C.’s intense wealth gap, neighborhoods with the highest incidence of homelessness, addiction and other poverty-related problems are also likely to have the highest rate of muggings, theft and property crimes. Focusing on race in discussions about trans/homophobic violence obscures the role of poverty in promoting violence.

Finally, before we call for increased policing we should ask whether having more police on the streets is in anyone’s best interest. D.C. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, fed by programs such as the “Prostitution Free Zones” and “All Hands on Deck.” Such policies target marginalized communities like LGBTQ folks, especially poor and low-income young trans women of color. D.C.’s racially skewed prison population – only 2 percent white – underscores that point.

Due to employment discrimination, lack of family support, and insensitive or inadequate social services, LGBTQ people are more likely to end up on the streets, where their survival may depend on criminalized activities like sex work. Combined with police profiling, these factors increase the likelihood that LGBTQ people will be detained, arrested or sent to jail. Jail is a dangerous place for LGBTQ folks, particularly trans women. Many trans women are placed in male facilities, where they are at incredibly high risk of rape and contracting HIV.

We should all be concerned about anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, wherever we live. But we must not jump to dangerous conclusions – like pretending hate crimes only happen in some areas, blaming anti-LGBTQ hate crimes on people of color, or using this as a reason to call for more severe police tactics in those neighborhoods. If we want to stop the violence, we must critically ask how poverty and racism fuel transphobia and homophobia, and strive to develop creative strategies to end all of them.

Sadie Ryanne Baker lives in Northeast and works with the DC Trans Coalition, a human-rights organization for transgender, transsexual and gender nonconforming communities in D.C. (dctranscoalition.org.)