Through a human rights framework and a focus on health equity, this workshop explores laws that harm sex workers, with a focus on transgender women, LGBTQ people of color, and LGBTQ homeless youth. Punitive laws include laws criminalizing sex work, laws affecting sex work as part of anti-trafficking efforts, and other laws that are frequently enforced against sex workers. Most of these laws are at the state level, but sex workers are also impacted by federal laws such as FOSTA-SESTA, which has resulted in online platforms shutting down or eliminating portions of their websites upon which sex workers relied. Protecting the rights and health of LGBTQ sex workers requires the full decriminalization of sex work but also broader decriminalization and intersectional policies. The panel will provide an overview of state-level sex worker advocacy campaigns, with particular attention to legislative efforts in cities and states aimed at fully decriminalizing sex work. This advocacy also includes supporting laws that decriminalize drugs or drug paraphernalia, loitering, and HIV, as well as policies that divert funding from police and expand affordable housing, employment programs, and LGBTQ protections. We will also look at current legislative approaches that fall short of full decriminalization, including sex worker immunity laws (enacted in four states in 2019 and proposed in additional states in 2021) and partial decriminalization (campaigns occurring in Massachusetts and other states), and explain, with research and from the perspective of someone with lived experience in sex work, why these approaches are inadequate. Finally, we will examine the negative impact of FOSTA-SESTA and more recent federal anti-trafficking proposals, and we will explore effective messaging around sex work and discuss efforts to enact the federal SAFE SEX Workers Study Act.
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