Sex workers to rally for their rights in Sydney on Friday

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Photo: DecrimQLD

Sex workers and their allies are gathering for a public rally in Newtown in Sydney on Friday to call for the protection of workers who supply sexual services under NSW’s Anti-Discrimination legislation.

The event is being held in Newtown’s Pride Square outside The Hub theatre building and will run from 10.30am until midday.

Supporters are encouraged to wear red to the event where they will hear from speakers from groups including the Scarlet Alliance, Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) NSW, the Asian Migrant Sex Worker Advisory Group and Pride in Protest after a Welcome to Country by Uncle Graham Simms, AKA Nana Miss Koori.

Legislation before the Parliament

The groups have been consulting closely with Sydney MP Alex Greenwich who has included reforms designed to protect sex workers and their associates from discrimination in his Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill.

In the second reading of the bill in the NSW Parliament in August, Greenwich noted that “anti-discrimination laws aim to protect us from discrimination, bigotry, inequity, harassment, vilification, and violence, and ensure that we can live with dignity and peace.”

“Discrimination remains a challenge for all LGBTIQA+ communities and the health strategy identified its toll on health, mental health and wellbeing.”

“Many sex workers are part of or supportive of the LGBTIQA+ community, and during consultation, stakeholders unanimously agreed the bill should protect them. Discrimination and vilification against sex workers is common and takes many forms including refusal to provide goods and services.

“The bill defines a sex worker as a person who provides sexual services on a commercial basis. This definition covers a range of services in return for payment or reward, including participating in sexual activity like erotic entertainment, BDSM work and pornography. Discrimination against sex workers will be outlawed including discrimination in the course of doing sex work.”

SWOP NSW and the Scarlet Alliance told QNews they were confident that the language used in the Alex Greenwich bill was broad enough that it would also protect other workers in the sex industry who did not directly provide a sexual service themselves.

The legislation protects people “on the ground of the aggrieved person is, or has been, a sex worker or a relative or associate of the aggrieved person is, or has been, a sex worker.”

That would mean, for example, that a person who had worked as a receptionist or night manager in a brothel could not be discriminated against by future employers for having worked in a sex industry role.

Scarlet Alliance CEO Mish Pony told QNews the event was being held as part of a national conference in Sydney around sex worker rights.

“The rally is on day three of the Scarlet Alliance National Forum which is Australia’s annual sex worker only national conference,” they said.

“It’s held in different states and territories and just happens to be in Sydney this year. This is the biggest gathering of sex worker activists to come together to discuss the topics that are important to us and to strategise on decriminalisation, anti-discrimination, and other areas that we face inequalities in our lives.”

SWOP NSW CEO Joanna Megan told QNews the rally was “designed to highlight the discrimination that sex workers experience across Australia and will have a focus on intersectional marginalisations.”

“There were be speakers from a range of communities within the sex work community – that includes sex workers with disabilities, migrant sex workers, trans and gender diverse sex workers, sex workers who use drugs – and there will also be a speaker from South Australia who will be talking about the introduction of a bill there that would introduce the “Nordic model” of sex work which criminalises the clients of sex workers.”

Megan said SWOP and Scarlet Alliance had been working very closely with Greenwich and his team to ensure the legislation was fit for purpose.

“It’s very important that that definition [of sex work in the legislation] is current because the sex industry is so dynamic and sex work happens in so many different formats and it really does need to include all members of a very diverse community, including people who are working online, and people who might be working for rewards other than monetary payment,” Megan said.

“Something else that we’ve asked for are better processes to protect sex workers’ identities in various legal processes because we have already recognised that this is a barrier for sex workers in seeking justice. There are a lot of reasons why we would want to protect our privacy and its really important that we can seek redress without disclosing our legal names.”

Mish Pony said that one way that could be achieved was by having sex worker groups being able to represent individuals in those sorts of legal processes.

“We are advocating that representative bodies like SWOP NSW should be able to act on behalf of people who have faced discrimination,” they said.

Joanna Megan said that passing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation around sex work was the missing piece of the puzzle for sex worker law reform in NSW which was otherwise seen as a global leader in this area.

“NSW is recognised as a world leader in terms of sex industry regulation,” Megan said.

“The industry was mostly decriminalised in 1995 but while we still lack anti-discrimination protections the positive intentions of decriminalisation are effectively undermined in many ways by creating very real barriers that sex workers face on a daily basis in employment in other industries, education, housing, financial services, health services, as well as creating barriers to us accessing safety and justice.”

Banking still an obstacle to reform

Both Megan and Pony stressed the need for the financial services industry in Australia to reform their practices in relation to sex workers.

“We’re not able to access services that are vital to running our otherwise completely legitimate businesses,” Megan said.

“We really need AUSTRAC to provide better guidance to the financial industry that discrimination against sex workers isn’t necessary for risk mitigation strategies,” Pony said.

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Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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