Sex Workers at WeHo Forum Speak Out Against Stigma

Sex workerswant to be treated with respectanddon’t want to be consideredas havingamental disorder.That was the message coming out of apanel discussionregarding sex workheld Thursday nightat the West Hollywood City Council chambers.

About 50 people attended the forumsponsored by the City of West Hollywoodwhere a panel of five sex workers shared their views and answered questions about their work and lives.The panel wasorganized by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP)(swopla.org)

Councilmember John Duran introduced the forum saying it was time to “bring some of these issues out of the shadows into the light where we can talk about them in an open way that only happens in the city of West Hollywood.”Councilmembers Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath and John Heilman were also present.

The panelistsreported thatmental health workerstend to viewsex workersas having a mentalillness which causes them to choose sex work as their profession.They want to see that opinion changed and thesocialstigma surrounding sex work removed.

They compared their situation today to the way homosexuality was once considered a mental disorder. Thanks to lobbyingbygay activists in the early 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association changed itspositionand removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973.

Additionally,the panelists reportedsex workersdon’t necessarily want to be “rescued” and don’t always want help to get out of that line of work.As panelistTiffanyexplained, “We’re adults, we have the right to decide how to use our body.”

The panelists explained that mental health officials tend to automatically assume they need to be rescued upon learning they are sex workersand focus solely on that instead of other issues.

As a panelist named Andrew speculated,“If sex work is destigmatized, the rescueaspectwill diminish.”

Dr. Curley Bonds, the chief medical officer for Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, was among the people in the audience. During the question and answer period, Bonds stood up saying he agreed that mental health officials often view the sex work as the cause of all their problems.He offeredtohelp change that perception, saying that as a black gay man, he had first-hand understanding of discrimination.

While none of the panelists discussed how they got into sex work, they did explain they did it for the moneyorforsurvival needs such asfood ora place to live.Panelist Averyput it simply,saying, “I like to eat.” Meanwhile, Andrew explained, “rent is expensive.”

Panelist Lotus Lane explained she likes to have a flexible work schedule which sex work provides, which then allows her to spend time with her child.

By being a sex worker, Avery explained that she has learned to negotiate and set boundaries with her clients, skills she now uses in other parts of her life.Lotus commented that sex work has allowed her freedom from bad relationships.

However, the panelists saiddoing sex work has made getting housing or finding other employment difficult. Panelist Sam (who was not present but submitted is answers via email) explained he doesn’t have the proper pay stubs for the screening process of getting housing. Likewise,Andrew detailed how there is a “big gap” on his resume that is hard to explain to potential employers.

The panelists reported they are often reluctant to tell medical doctors what they do for a livingdue to the stigma associated with sex work. Lotus reported she has told doctors she got a sexually transmitted disease from a cheating boyfriend rather that admit she does sex work. Meanwhile, Avery said the only doctors she feels safe enough to disclose her profession to are the doctors at the LA LGBT Center.

The sex workersalsodon’t feel safe dealing with police and sheriff’s deputies and especially don’t feel protected by them. Sam detailed how deputies at the West Hollywood Sheriff’sStationknow who he is and what he does. Consequently, they will stopSamfor anynumber ofreasons, often arresting him without any justification.

PanelistTiffany, ablack/Latinotransgender woman, said the thought of interacting with police is a “scary thing,” while Andrew reported he would never go to the police for any issue related to sex work.

Bella of SWOP, who served asone of the forum’s moderators,emphasized that consensual sex is not sex trafficking. “No sex worker wants trafficking to continue,” she said.However, she noted thatunder the law,she could be charged with traffickingjust forgiving another sex worker a place to live or even giving him/hera ride to the doctor’s office.

As for the future, they want to see sex workers organize for their rights, something SWOP is already working toward.The long-term goal is to see sex work decriminalized. They note thathuman rights organizationAmnesty International already advocates fordecriminalizing sex work.

They are also against the “Nordic model”for sex trade,which makes it illegal to buy sex but does not penalize the person selling their body for the sex.As West Seegmiller, who also helped moderate the panel,put it, “We don’t want to see our clients criminalized.”

As forashort-term goal, they would like the City of West Hollywood to form a Sex Workers Advisory Board to provide input on formingpolicies and laws regarding sex work. They notedthe cityhas a Transgender Advisory Board to get input from transgender people and a Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board to get input from gays and lesbians, so why not a similar advisory board for sex workers.

“Talk to the people who you’re makingpolicyfor,” said Bella.

Severalpeopleon thepanelalso said they would like to see Ed Buck put on trial for his part in the death ofGemmel Moore andTimothy Dean Moore. Both were black men who died of drug overdoses in Buck’s West Hollywood apartment. Panelist Sam, a black man, reported he has been a client of Buck’s and has done drugs with him. Meanwhile Andrew saidhe knew several other black male sex workerswho Buck has hired. He said heconsidersBuck a serial killer who could kill again.


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Vigilant
Guest
Vigilant

Everyone wants to be respected but so few demonstrate respectable behavior.

Jono
Guest
Jono

I have to say that the majority of the responses to this article are embarrassing for a city that embraces progressive ideas and was founded by an oppressed minority. Your stated (and ignorant) biases regarding sex workers are shameful. And Trumpian in their shortsightedness. Sex work will, eventually, be legal and protected. (Assuming we make it through the current political climate.) And, dearies, this is not about John Duran regardless of how you feel or try to make it about him. This is about eliminating trafficking, protecting our vulnerable brothers and sisters, establishing communication and shedding the yoke of Puritanical… Read more »

Majority Rules
Guest
Majority Rules

It may be embarrassing to you, but it is the response of the majority.

Jono
Guest
Jono

The day an issue is justified by it simply being held by a majority is the day we continue not learning from history. Majority opinion is not justification. See: slavery, witch-burning, the Inquisition, oppression of women, gay as mental illness… etc.

Michael Grace
Guest
Michael Grace

Amazing that West Hollywood sponsored this considering that the sex workers don’t pay taxes! Then if sex for sale were legalized West Hollywood could gouge the John’s at 15 percent tax like greedy WEHO does for buying weed.

I say legalize sex for sale! The only people objecting are what Madalyn Murray O’Hair called “the Christers” or organized religion which should be taxed ASAP! .

JF1
Guest
JF1

With all the issue we have in this city, they are spending time and money advocating for prostitutes. Unbelievable. How about helping them get on a path for a better life. Education is key. Prostitution brings crime and drugs to neighborhoods..and we already have plenty of both.

Christopher Winters
Guest
Christopher Winters

Education is key? Well I have an Ivy League education, how about you? Half of my “clients” turn out to be clients for my other businesses including the construction company I own. That on average is another 30k each, I’d say that makes me pretty business savvy 😉. I own two properties free and clear, travel half the year and I’m a city commissioner, thanks but I don’t need rescuing from your nimbyism. If I was In town I would have given the panel another needed voice. I’ll take advantage of the opportunity of this free advertising though. Liberals like… Read more »

Jim Nasium
Guest
Jim Nasium

Too much information.

Ham
Guest
Ham

big yawn. TMI.

JF1
Guest
JF1

Big, big yawn.

JF1
Guest
JF1

Where are you now Christopher “Winters”? So proud of your “accomplishments” then why run?

Ham
Guest
Ham

sex worker……is NOT a profession. trying to normalize the activities of desperate people is sad.

JF1
Guest
JF1

Exactly. We are through the looking glass. This state will be unlivable in the years to come. Our grandparents are turning over in their graves. They left us a golden state and we’ll be leaving our children a state of third world conditions.

Jim Nasium
Guest
Jim Nasium

Insert dumbfounded and bewildered meme here.

Vigilant
Guest
Vigilant

It’s hard to imagine that people would be born without integrity. Apparently some choose to give away self respect or allow it to be taken from them. An intervention seems more appropriate than a forum or as some suggest an advisory board.

What’s next, an advisory board for pedophiles because they claim to be victims of the ills of society?

Ham
Guest
Ham

sex workers????? are you serious?

JF1
Guest
JF1

West Hollywood is going so far left that pretty soon they’ll have gone full circle. It’s getting so ridiculous. And they keep presenting all of this crap to us with a straight face. Are they believing this crap themselves?

Kate on Havenhurst
Guest
Kate on Havenhurst

John Diran is an embarrassment to West Hollywood. He’s nothing but a grandstander for John Duran. He’s a politically corrupt politician who should be investigated by the FBI. Along with all the developers and corporate money who use him as there street walker. The city should be spending much more time on why businesses are struggling along Sunset Boulevard. And more concerned about the residents who live here. instead of being preoccupied with everything else except running a city that is not controlled by big money. I’m sure there were more people at this event than the Mueller Report. Which… Read more »

JF1
Guest
JF1

At voted for him at one time..when he represented himself as a respectable leader. Never again.

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

No matter how the discussion started, it’s a good thing. There should be an advisory board for sex workers. Remember, for ever sex worker in West Hollywood, there are many Clients. It’s called supply and demand. Sex workers deserve the same rights and protection as any other group in West Hollywood. Let’s give this serious thought and not allow the haters to use this as an opportunity to bash John Duran, no matter what you think of him, this is not about him. All of the other Council Members where there and I respect them for that. The only one… Read more »

Rising to the absurd?
Guest
Rising to the absurd?

Where, then, are the advisory boards for certified public accountants, or teachers, or restaurant servers, or any other profession?

WALTER BOWLES
Guest
WALTER BOWLES

Those groups aren’t historically discriminated, targeted, and vulnerable because of their profession.

Eric Jon schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon schmidt

Thank you!

Alan Strasburg
Guest
Alan Strasburg

This got 50 attendees, that’s 47 more than the average audience count for the reading of the Mueller Report, a/k/a WeHo Bedtime Stories. At least this one was worth the carbon cost of lighting and air conditioning the throne room.

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

Sadly this is all tainted by the fact that council member John Duran brought this item forward while he was having sex w the organizer, a sex worker, who was not paid. This is well known around the council and told to me directly by the organizer – and in turn I called Duran to explain why I was signing the petition by Elyse Eisenberg calling for his resignation. For this very reason. He uses the office for his personal benefit – he could have just paid the guy and brought the item forward without compromise.

Alan Strasburg
Guest
Alan Strasburg

Oh, but quid pro quo is so much more fun than principled governance. Save for one who does her homework, is prepared, and makes rational decisions, I think the majority of the council are in it for something other than the magnanimity of public service. Ego, favors, political career building seem to be higher priorities than the good of the residents of West Hollywood. It’s long past time for new blood, new ideas, and a fresh start on the West Hollywood Student Council.

JF1
Guest
JF1

wow. Does it ever end with this guy?

JF1
Guest
JF1

His ego won’t fit through the door on the way out.