Women’s March 2017: As Expected, the Erasure of Sex Workers Rights

UPDATE January 18, 2017: Yesterday wording affirming the rights of sex workers was returned to the Women’s March Statement. The attempt to erase the presence of sex worker rights and sex workers’ voices in feminist spaces was reversed because of widespread public outcry. We must be honest with ourselves that until the criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers’ lives and work ends, sex workers can be erased with the stroke of a pen, one phone call to the cops and by putting up another piece of anti-sex worker legislation (yes, it is so easy to pass those laws under the guise of ending trafficking). The threat is always there. And so resistance is needed daily. We honor the fortitude of Janet Mock for her clear statement on why she wrote the line, “…and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.” And how and why she rejects the “continual erasure of sex workers from our feminisms.” Historically and today the people who have primarily stood up boldly for sex worker rights have been transgender women of color. We remain committed to highlighting the leadership of transgender people of color for the rights of sex workers.


January 17, 2017: The presence of anti-sex worker rights advocate Gloria Steinem as co-chair of the Women’s March this weekend in Washington, D.C. meant that it was almost certain that the Women’s March would back away from its surprisingly forward thinking statement on sex work.The original statement read, “We believe that all workers – including domestic and farm workers – must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage, and that unions and other labor associations are critical to a healthy and thriving economy for all. Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.”

Today advocates noted that the Women’s March Statement has been changed to remove any mention of sex worker’s rights. The statement now reads, “Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with all those exploited for sex and labor.”

It is not so much that Steinem directly put pressure on the Women’s March to erase sex workers’ rights organizing from the page–though she most certainly would have–but more that the agreement to place an advocate who has so clearly spoken out against both the rights of transgender people and sex workers as a co-chair means that these issues are contested by the groups and advocates in the lead. In 2017, failing to recognize sex workers’ rights in the United States is simply unacceptable. Honoring both sex worker and trans leadership is the way forward.