I hesitate to make too much of small things. On the one hand i don't want to blow them out of proportion. On the other i don't want to jinx a process that might be just in its early stages. But despite those two concerns I am excited by two recent policy changes that the Obama administration has made which seem to indicate at very least a less restrictive interpretation of the Defense of Marriage Act and perhaps more than that: perhaps a slow chipping away at the act itself.
First of all, today the New York Times printed an AP story reporting that the Census Bureau would in fact count same sex married couples as married. That reverses a Bush administration policy that I wrote about here explicitly stating that these couples could not be counted because DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages in any way. Apparently the Obama administration disagrees. Then again, the Obama administration also understands the need for accurate research and solid data when making policy decisions, and data provided by a census that did not count such marriages would be inherently flawed.
I was thinking about the red umbrella image that I associate with sex worker rights and how the symbolism and the slogan are significant beyond that one very important movement. The umbrella of labor rights needs to cover all marginalized workers who are currently without protection of their basic rights.
I'm thinking especially of the connections between sex work and migrant work. Both categories of workers are so often targets of stigma, scapegoating, and abuse.
Imagine a labor movement that gathered up all workers and fought for their safety, their dignity, and their right to a decent standard of living. Imagine uniting workers around the globe so that employers could no longer exploit workers in one nation to undercut workers in another. Imagine not being arrested, deported, beat up, or murdered because of your work.
The right to work is a basic human right. The right to autonomy and control over one's body is a basic human right. A decent standard of living, physical safety, and personal freedom should all be basic human rights.
My wish for today is that we each do something, anything, that honors or celebrates the dignity of those whose work is stigmatized or made invisible. And if you get a moment, drop by in the comments and let us know what you did.
Today is Workers Memorial Day.
As always, when it comes to work and sex and society, I am thinking about some of the most vulnerable among us: sex workers. Sex workers are a large and diverse group. I don't mean to use the term as a euphemism for prostitutes, though I do include them. I mean to include all whose labor is in the providing of sexual or erotic services. I mean to include them whether their work is legal or criminalized, whether they are migrants or not, whether they have a great deal of autonomy or are working in exploitive conditions. No matter what, all those workers deserve to be safe.
The serial killings of prostitutes in places like Ipswich (UK), Vancouver, and Washington remind us of the particular dangers faced by prostitutes (or women suspected of being prostitutes) but it is important to remember that workers in the legal realms of erotic work are also put at risk as we've been tragically reminded recently by attack on Roberta Busby, who was set on fire outside a strip club in February or the murder of Julissa Brisman in a hotel in Boston earlier this month.
Three simple thoughts, then, on Workers Memorial Day:
1. No women are safe until prostitutes are safe. As long prostitutes are targets of violence, and as long as that violence can be perpetrated with much less risk of sanction, and as long as all women are potentially identifiable as prostitutes by virtue of owning our sexuality, no women are safe until prostitutes are safe.
2. An injury to one is an injury to all. When we don’t speak up to protect the safety of other groups, we cannot expect much support when we ourselves are targeted. Solidarity is important across groups of workers. Stigma and bias only serve to divide us. Whatever work we do, whether erotic or otherwise, whether legal or not, whether chosen or not, we need to stand up for each others rights to self determination and safety.
3. Those of us with more privilege (greater safety, more autonomy, more money, more education, more access to power) need to use it to improve conditions for those with less.
Workers deserve to be safe.
Would you deny rights to child care workers because:
...their work is dangerous? (Consider the spread of infections and exposure to bodily fluids, let alone the heavy lifting. No, we would advocate for hand sanitizer and worker protection laws so that we could be sure our kids would be as safe as possible.)
...their work is often exploitive? (Day care workers in centers and in homes are poorly paid, often have no benefits. They are among the most necessary and most vulnerable workers. Instead of denying them rights we argue for better wages and working conditions.)
...their work is sometimes done illegally? (Many people taking care of children work off the books and some work without documentation. And when lots of more privileged moms hire this way we turn a blind eye and don't call them pimps or johns.)
...their work is associated with migrant labor and human trafficking? (Women are trafficked for many reasons including domestic service and child care.)
...their work is associated with care that is otherwise provided out of love and devotion to family? (Would we ever argue that because a woman cares for other people's children for pay that she is incapable of loving her own children and caring for them well?)
Click here to continue reading.
From the SWANK and SWOP-NYC Listserv and from Melissa Hope Ditmore, Ph.D at Network for Sex Work Projects:
*** CALL TO ACTION *** ***** DISTRIBUTE WIDELY *****
PROTEST HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES OF SEX WORKERS IN CAMBODIA!
1:30 PM AT THE CAMBODIAN MISSION TO THE UN 327 E 50TH STREET NEAR SECOND AVENUE
HLM ATTENDEES LEAVE THE UN CAFÉ AT 1 PM
The Cambodian Government under the influence of the US has passed a law against sex work. Since March, sex workers have been rounded up in raids, arrested, detained, denied medical services, beaten and raped by police. At least three sex workers have died in police custody. Others are being denied life-saving medicines. THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!
A really interesting conversation about labor issues, collective interests and personal freedom started in the comments on Amber's post about how destigmatization could reduce profits for some sex workers.
I think it started with this passage from a comment of KerwinK's regarding a "labor speed up" of sorts in strip clubs in San Francisco: