Photo: Facebook | SWOP Behind Bars.
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US sex workers celebrate activist history through art project

Sex worker organisations are supporting an art project across five cities in the United States to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s first sex worker–led protest.

The Oldest Profession Podcast, in partnership with Sex Work Rights, SWOP Behind Bars, and the Sex Work Project at the Urban Justice Center, is funding the #OldProProject, which launches today.

The project is a nationwide community collaboration that brings the history of sex workers to life through a variety of art media, from music videos and murals to posters and zines.

Many members of the LGBTIQ community are sex workers, with some estimates suggesting that up to one in five gay and bisexual men has done sex work.

Workers often face discrimination and violence fuelled by stigma, particularly those in other marginalised groups such as trans women and sex workers of colour.

The #OldProProject provides resources to sex worker artists and advocates to celebrate the shared history of the community and is working with City Coordinators connected to active decriminalisation efforts in New York, NY; New Orleans, LA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and San Francisco, CA.

On 25 January 1917, hundreds of sex workers in San Francisco led a protest to fight the imminent closure of the brothels where they lived and worked.

Although their basic demands were ignored, their story continues to inspire modern sex worker rights advocates.

The #OldProProject seeks to celebrate this historic moment, which is discussed in The Oldest Profession Podcast episode Why January 25th Matters.

“It’s important to remember that we’re part of a multigenerational struggle and that sex workers have been resisting their criminalisation since the beginning,” said Savannah Sly, National Coordinator of the #OldProProject.

Dr Charlene Fletcher, historian for the #OldProProject, said that the history of sex work and activism is for everyone.

“These stories belong to all of us and they should be celebrated,” said Dr Fletcher.

The project hopes to expand next year to support work in 15 cities.

Sex work is criminalised in various ways in most jurisdictions worldwide, with decriminalisation a priority for the sex worker rights movement in the United States, Australia, Europe, and beyond.

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