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LGBTI organisations call for decriminalization of sex work

During the final day of the ILGA World Conference, held in Aotearoa New Zealand, LGBTI activists worldwide resolved to address the stigmatisation of sex workers, including in the LGBTI movement. The resolution passed in the closing session of the conference and opposes all forms of criminalisation and legal oppression of sex workers - an historic first for ILGA World, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

“By approving this resolution, our global LGBTI family is saying loud and clear that addressing violence, criminalisation and human rights violations against LGBTI and all sex workers must be a priority for our movement", said outgoing ILGA co-Secretaries General Ruth Baldacchino and Helen Kennedy. "LGBTI sex workers are an integral part of our communities and movements, and have shaped key moments in queer history: we must listen to their voices, stand by their side and continue our fight towards social justice for all".

Concerned by the high levels of violations, violence, discrimination and exclusion faced by sex workers, this global LGBTI network representing more than 1,500 organisations from each region of the world join a growing number of human rights, health and anti-trafficking organisations demanding governments recognise sex work as work, and protect sex workers’ labour and human rights.

ILGA World approved the resolution during its 30th World Conference, held in Aotearoa New Zealand - a country that decriminalised sex work in 2003, establishing an integrative policy allowing sex workers to choose their place, type, and method of work, including the right to refuse clients. This has been recognised as being among the best practices for sex work policy and law by the UN and other international organisations, as well as women’s organisations in New Zealand, including the Maori Women’s Welfare League, the largest indigenous women’s organisation in the country.

Allan Heta Cleaver, a Board member of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, explains:

“As a young Maori sex worker I was arrested and convicted of prostitution and soliciting pre the decriminalization of prostitution. Doing street-based sex work, my health and safety was often at risk and I was unable to call upon the police for help. Having returned to sex work after a long break and after decriminalisation, I am now able to work indoors and not be so at risk. I know the police will come to my aid, if I need them. Moreover, I can access healthcare and information on my rights through peer-led organizations like NZPC. Sex workers’ rights are human rights!”

One of the conference organising groups, Tiwhanawhana Trust, advocates for takatapui - some of whom are, or have been, sex workers. Founder and Chair of Tiwhanawhana, Elizabeth Kerekere says:

“A disproportionate number of sex workers are Maori and many are takatapui. We uphold the rights of sex workers to lead and be involved in all decision-making to do with their lives, their well-being and their sector. We support the work of NZPC and look forward to helping give life to the ILGA World resolution.”

Sabrina Sanchez, trans woman, Mexican migrant in Spain, founder of sex workers union OTRAS in Spain pointed out:

“Many trans women escape from violence in their home countries, and migrate to find safe places where we can be ourselves without the fear of being murdered for our gender identity, expression or sexual orientation. Sex work often is the only job available due to the restrictive asylum policies in the Global North countries”.

Research has shown that, among the 2,982 trans people murdered between 2008 and 2018, 62% whose profession was known were sex workers. The ILGA World resolution recognises that many LGBTI individuals enter sex work due to transphobia, biphobia and homophobia that limit access to education and other forms of employment, and at the same time denounces the criminalisation of sex work, including the criminalisation of clients.

Luca Stevenson, Coordinator of ICRSE, a European sex worker network of 100 organisations adds:

“A growing number of countries in Europe and globally are implementing or considering implementing the repressive Swedish Model of criminalisation of clients, ignoring the overwhelming evidence that all forms of criminalisation of sex work directly increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, HIV and human rights violations. We applaud ILGA World for listening to sex workers and support our rights through decriminalisation.”

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