Sharmus Outlaw: humanist, transgender leader for sex worker rights has passed

SharmusOutlaw_byPJStarrSharmus Outlaw our colleague and friend has passed away this morning remaining strong and powerful in her beliefs through her last days.

At the time of her death Sharmus was a national policy advocate at the Best Practices Policy Project, with her work focusing on the rights of transgender communities and health care access. Sharmus was also the US representative for the Programme Advisory Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund, a global fund specifically for sex worker-led organizations and was part of numerous other networks. Sharmus was an advocate for health and rights for more than 25 years with experience working in the District of Columbia, Maryland and her beloved North Carolina, where she was born. An internationally known activist, she spoke out against injustice in all settings, from interactions with police in the streets to meetings with the U.S. government to high-level U.N. gatherings.

Sharmus has left us much too soon but she has achieved so much. In 2001 she was a founding member of Different Avenues, a grassroots organization working with people in street and other informal economies in the District of Columbia. Sharmus designed the outreach programs at Different Avenues drawing on her years of experience at other organizations such as HIPS where she had been a member of the DIVA program and an outreach worker. Ensuring that young people, especially transgender youth, could access services without discrimination at times that worked for them was an essential part of Sharmus’ vision. In addition to her work at Different Avenues and HIPS, Sharmus volunteered and worked at numerous organizations in the District of Columbia including the Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL), Casa Ruby, and Us Helping Us. She never stopped doing outreach and would carry condoms and literature with her on her travels home to see her family in North Carolina to make sure that she could pass out materials to folks she met. She was passionately concerned that rural communities all across the United States did not have access to information about gender, sexuality, rights and HIV/AIDS.

Sharmus had a great ability to unite communities locally, nationally, regionally and globally, and through these alliances to advocate for change. She was an integral part of the community-based research team that collected data on police interactions with people profiled as sex workers in the District of Columbia, which was published as the seminal report “Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C.” in 2008. Drawing on that experience and her extensive knowledge of the ways in which laws and practices negatively affected members of marginalized communities, Sharmus was co-author of another first of its kind report, published in 2015, “Nothing About Us, Without Us: HIV/AIDS-Related Community and Policy Organizing by U.S. Sex Workers,” which had an explicit focus on transgender people living with HIV who engage in sex work. After helping to lead a disruption of a panel of U.S. lawmakers speaking about HIV policy, to highlight the U.S. government’s harmful stance against sex workers’ rights, at the 2012 International AIDS Conference, Sharmus told reporters, “Before I’m transgender, before I’m a sex worker, before I am anything, I’m human. I have rights just like anyone else.”
An iconic grassroots human rights defender, Sharmus Outlaw will be remembered by friends, colleagues, and fans in Washington, D.C., and around the world. Her work continues through all of us who advocate for the humanity of transgender people, sex workers, people living with HIV and youth, especially trans youth. An era dedicated to implementing the vision of Sharmus Outlaw is just beginning, in her name.

Email in order to be connected to ongoing work planned by Sharmus and donate to Sharmus’ funeral costs.

Desiree Alliance’s public statement re: Orlando

“Desiree Alliance mourns the loss of so many. There are no losses for words as there’s just too many words that can be said here. We can point fingers but we all know why this happened. The varied reasons that have crossed our minds, why, what, when, how… It has replayed in a thousand different institutional ways from religion to political to gun control to race relations to homo & Trans phobia to terrorism, etc etc etc.Desiree New Logo
I urge all leaders in this fight to rise up and call out your truth. I urge all leaders that have a stake to stand in solidarity with those that did nothing other than share one night in a space that should have been safe. I urge unification among us because it’s not just one thing that’s broken. Our systems are designed to do just what happened in Orlando and we have historically & repeatedly witnessed the horrors that have been created by these designs.
Today, we honor these forced heroes thrust into that role, as not one person would have gone into this knowingly or willingly. These heroes were just looking for one night of relief, to laugh, to dance, to share camaraderie, to love one another, to live another day…”
Cristine Sardina BWS, MSJ
Coordinator, Desiree Alliance

Navigating the References: Part 1

In 2015, Jill McCracken prepared for a TEDx talk on the topic “Selling Sex: Contradicting Violence with Choice” amassing a great deal of the current research on the topic. Later in 2015 Jill joined BPPP’s research advisory committee for the Nothing About Us, Without Us Project, and these references and summaries proved to be an extremely valuable resource as we developed our work on HIV policy and sex worker rights. She has now kindly provided us with a comprehensive blog posting collating key research summaries. We are publishing her post in two parts, the first focusing on the intersections of sex work, HIV and health, and the second part will focus on references referencing trafficking in persons. Jill is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and author of the book Street Sex Workers Discourse.

Navigating the References Connecting Sex Work, Criminalization, and Violence

By Jill McCracken, PhD

You may not learn a great deal of new information in this blog. I say that truthfully and also to acknowledge the incredible work that has and continues to be done and shared within the sex worker rights movement and beyond. As I was compiling these sources and writing the blog, explained more fully below, I was continually hearing myself say, “Well, this is nothing new. This is what we have been saying all along”. And yet, because sources are making this information known through case studies, sites of analysis, research methodologies, and community organizations and perspectives, it becomes extremely helpful to reiterate this information and put it in one place for easy reference; at least it has been helpful for me.

When I found out I was going to give a TEDx talk at the University of South Florida, I was instantly terrified. My terror is usually linked to not only my high expectations for myself, but also my fear of disappointing my audience. And when I considered my fear in relationship to this project (working through my fear has become my new way of being of late), I realized the audience I was most afraid of disappointing was my sex worker and sex worker rights colleagues and organizations. I also knew that in order to give a talk that was worthy of the subject matter: A World Beyond Ourselves, I would need to, once again, rely on my sex worker and sex worker rights colleagues and friends. I therefore went to my many online lists and organizations and asked for help. I also did a great deal of research. Ironically, most, if not all, of this research did not actually make it into the talk, because I later found out that TEDx talks were not meant to include lots of statistics and facts, but rather stories and information the audience can relate to. But what I did find in doing all of that research was that I became even more convinced of my (and many others’) central idea for this talk: that sex work must be decriminalized if we are to reduce violence against sex workers, sex workers must be at the forefront of any discussions about these policies, and that we must focus on a rights-based approach rather than a prosecution or criminal-based approach.

Continue reading »

#EndingAIDS only possible with #sexworkerrights: UN Civil Society Hearing in NYC

Today Derek Demeri, representing SWOP USA, New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance and the Best Practices Policy Project, is attending a civil society hearing convened by the United Nations as part of the preparatory process towards a “high level meeting on HIV/AIDS” that will be held later this year in June. The official purpose of this meeting is to “provide civil society and all relevant stakeholders an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing preparations in a day of interactive panel discussions with Member States and representatives from civil society, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, organizations and networks representing people living with HIV, women, adolescents and young persons and other relevant stakeholders.” For sex worker rights representatives from the United States and beyond, this meeting is another opportunity to raise red umbrellas and state the obvious truth that we cannot “end AIDS” without full and meaningful participation of sex workers in all aspects of policy, HIV service provision, leadership and more. The New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance and the Best Practices Policy Project have created a set of talking points for use during today’s meetings.

BPPP and  NJRUA note that, “globally only a tiny portion of all funding for HIV prevention and treatment activities is given to sex worker-led organizations. This practice must immediately change because we cannot end AIDS without sex workers as equal partners in this effort.” Within the United States sex worker rights organizations, “are also highly marginalized from funding and other resources, a situation made far worse because of the government’s failure to include any approaches to address sex work and HIV in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The US government must adopt a scientifically based rights approach to working with sex workers and provide adequate funding for sex worker led organizations to implement this approach.”

TWEET IT OUT: Nothing About Us Without Us, Decriminalize #sexwork to #endHIV #HLM2016AIDS

Direct HIV $ to #sexworkers in all National HIV Strategies, end the silence #UnitedStates about #sexworkerrights #HLM2016AIDS

VIEW THE UN Civil Society hearing online.