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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Sex workers, allies rally against Rentboy raids
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-09-06

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Around 20 people gathered outside the Center on Halsted Sept. 5 and marched along a route that took them through Lake View—specifically, Wrigleyville. The defiant energy in their chants of "When Rentboy is under attack, what do we do? Fight back" and "Whores don't deny it, Stonewall was a riot" was loud enough to be heard even through the swarms of Cubs fans exiting Wrigley Field.

The action was part of a coordinated weeklong protest in four cities nationwide that members of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) and their allies organized in response to the Aug. 25 Rentboy.com raids in Brooklyn, New York.

SWOP Chicago board member Blake Monroe told Windy City Times that the demand was simple: the decriminalization of sex work.

"We believe that sex work isn't empowering or degrading either end of the spectrum," they (preferred pronoun) said. "For many, it's something we can do to survive. It's really victimless. Obviously we're not talking about sex trafficking, but people who decide to do sex work should be able to engage in it without an issue."

It is an argument currently being made in the United States District Court in California in a challenge filed by The Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) to the state's anti-prostitution law.

Monroe believes that decriminalization will only occur through such cases rather than in legislatures. In the meantime, SWOP wants to end the marginalization of sex-workers that continues in areas such as Lakeview which Monroe termed as "our home before all these rich, white men moved in."

So the protestors began the route south along Halsted towards Belmont—some under the red umbrellas which symbolize the fortitude of sex workers while shading them from the consequential violence of a prejudicial society, others carrying banners reminding people that sex workers and trans women of color led the Stonewall riots.

"Marching through Lake View, a gentrifying [LGBT] neighborhood where many residents are calling to criminalize and push out street-based and queer youth of color—and a neighborhood that is home to non-profit organizations that are funding for social services for marginalized groups while continuing to marginalize them from their spaces and advocacy—was powerful," SWOP Communications Director Katherine Koster told Windy City Times. "The energy around decriminalization of sex work right now is very powerful."

Koster added that the knowledge that others were engaged in similar marches in Los Angeles and San Francisco at the same time was just as significant.

During the Chicago action, there were no incidents with the Chicago Police Department and the response the marchers received from passing motorists, the Cubs fans and even via a few thumbs up in Lakeview was overwhelmingly positive.

"I'm energized," Koster said. "I feel like that march got the message to a lot of people."

For more information about SWOP, visit www.swopusa.org .


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