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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sex workers rally at California Capitol

The rally targeted three bills to put a loitering law back on the books that detractors say targets people of color and the LGBTQ community.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The stripper figured that, before the law changed, she could have been arrested as she walked a few blocks to Tuesday’s sex worker rally at the California State Capitol.

Wearing fishnet stockings and a revealing outfit, Reagan’s attire could have been evidence she was a sex worker under a now-defunct law.

“We want to be writing the laws,” she intoned over a loudspeaker outside the Capitol grounds in Sacramento. “We want to be changing these institutions.”

Reagan said the varied types of sex workers gathered at the rally needed to work together toward real change.

Around 50 people, some holding red umbrellas — a symbol for sex workers and their rights movement — gathered to hear her and others speak in favor of rights for sex workers, a term that encompasses a wide range of jobs. Many strippers, prostitutes and people who perform online, among others, use the phrase.

The rally sought to shine a light on three bills this legislative session that would reimpose the crime of loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution. It’s that crime, off the books since Jan. 1, 2023, that Reagan and others have said was used to target people of color, as well as members of the LGBTQ community.

A bill by state Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, wiped the loitering law from the books. Wiener couldn’t be reached for comment.

Senate Bill 1219, along with Assembly Bills 2646 and 2034, all seek to make the loitering law a crime again. However, the chances of that happening appear slim.

Senate Bill 1219, written by Republican state Senator Kelly Seyarto of Murrieta, stalled early this month in the Senate Public Safety Committee, of which Wiener is a member.

The Assembly bills haven’t yet been heard in committee. Both must pass out of a policy committee to the Appropriations Committee by Friday, a key deadline. Neither is scheduled for a hearing.

Maxine Doogan, San Francisco-based president of the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project, a sex-worker advocacy group, said it’s a “big win” if the three bills don’t proceed this session. One of them, Assembly Bill 2646, was set for a hearing that morning, though it didn’t happen. Doogan said she was ready.

“If it was (heard), it was going to be prostitutes on parade,” she added.

Rachel West, coordinator with the US PROStitutes Collective, called the anti-loitering bills racist and transphobic. Saying they’re sitting in committee, West added that organizing and contacting committee members about the bills helped the cause.

While those bills drew the ire of rally attendees, they also spoke of the need for the decriminalization of sex work and increased legislative advocacy. Sex workers had six meetings scheduled Tuesday with lawmakers.

“We have to let legislators know that we are here,” Doogan said.

Standing before rally attendees, Doogan said some people wanted to recriminalize sex workers through the loitering law, enabling them to “save” the workers as they walk down the street. Doogan argued that legislators need to see the faces of sex workers.

Antonia Crane, a sex worker for 30 years, told the crowd that 70% of sex workers are mothers. She later led them in chanting, “Resources, not raids.”

Cesar Espinoza-Perez, cofounder of the Decrim Sex Work California Coalition, told rally attendees their presence was needed, as without them, lawmakers would continue to pass what he called failed policies. In some cases, those policies have led to deaths.

The policies, instead of stopping human trafficking as intended, in fact promote it, Espinoza-Perez said.

“How do you end human trafficking?” someone yelled out.

“End the criminalization of sex work,” Doogan replied.

Categories / Government, Law, Regional

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