Monthly Archives: February 2008

Sex in the Public Square Presents…

sex work forum banner

For one week, starting next Monday, on SexInThePublicSquare.org, we’ll be devoting a forum to that discussion of reducing harm to sex workers and ending human rights abuses involved in the movement of labor around the globe.

This is not a debate on the legitimacy of sex work but rather an exploration of how to protect people’s human rights. We’ve invited some of the smartest sex worker advocates we know — representing a range of connections to the sex industry — to talk about the intersection of these complicated issues (and also to talk about how to make them easier to discuss!).

Here’s how it’ll work:

On our forums page there will be a forum with the title “Sex Work, Trafficking, and Human Rights.” As participants post forum topics they’ll also appear here on the front page, and you’ll be able to go straight to the entire forum itself by clicking on the banner above (which will appear at the top of this column during the forum). The forum will be open, but comments strictly moderated for tone and for staying on topic. Debating the legitimacy of sex work as work is not on the agenda.

What is on the agenda? Items including but not limited to:

Defining our terms: Is the way that we define “porn” clear? “Prostitution”? “Sex work” in general? What happens when we say “porn” and mean all sexually explicit imagery made for the purpose of generating arousal and others hear “porn” as indicating just the “bad stuff” while reserving “erotica” for everything they find acceptable? When we say sex work is it clear what kinds of jobs we’re including?

Understanding our differences: How do inequalities of race, class and gender affect the sex worker rights movement? Are we effective in organizing across those differences?

Identifying common ground: What are the areas of agreement between the abolitionist/prohibitionist perspective and the human rights/harm reduction perspective? For example, we all agree that forced labor is wrong. We all agree that nonconsensual sex is wrong. Is it a helpful strategic move to by highlighting our areas of agreement and then demonstrating why a harm reduction/human rights perspective is better suited to addressing those shared concerns, or are we better served by distancing ourselves from the abolition/prohibition-oriented thinkers?

Evaluating research: What do we think of the actual research generated by prominent abolitionist/prohibitionist scholars like Melissa Farley, Gail Dines, and Robert Jensen? Can we comment on the methods they use to generate the data on which they base their analysis, and then can we comment on the logic of their conclusions based on the data they have?

Framing the issues: What are our biggest frustrations with the way that the human rights/harm reduction perspective is characterized by the abolitionist/prohibitionist folks? How can we effectively respond to or reframe this misrepresentations? What happens when “I oppose human trafficking” becomes a political shield that deflects focus away from issues of migration, labor and human rights?

Exploring broader economic questions: How does the demand for cheap labor undermine human rights-based solutions to exploitation in all industries, including the sex industry?

Participants will include:

Melissa Gira is a co-founder of the sex worker blog Bound, Not Gagged, the editor of Sexerati.com, and reports on sex for Gawker Media’s Valleywag.

Chris Hall is co-founder of Sex In The Public Square and also writes the blog Literate Perversions.

Kerwin Kay has written about the history and present of male street prostitution, and about the politics of sex trafficking. He has been active in the sex workers rights movement for some 10 years. He also edited the anthology Male Lust: Pleasure, Power and Transformation (Haworth Press, 2000) and is finishing a Ph.D. in American Studies at NYU.

Anthony Kennerson blogs on race, class, gender, politics and culture at SmackDog Chronicles, and is a regular contributor to the Blog for Pro-Porn Activism.

Antonia Levy co-chaired the international “Sex Work Matters: Beyond Divides” conference in 2006 and the 2nd Annual Feminist Pedagogy Conference in 2007. She teaches at Brooklyn College, Queens College, and is finishing her Ph.D. at the Graduate Center at CUNY.

Audacia Ray is the author of Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing In On Internet Sexploration (Seal Press, 2007), and the writer/producer/director of The Bi Apple. She blogs at WakingVixen.com hosts and edits Live Girl Review and was longtime executive editor of $pread Magazine.

Amber Rhea is a sex worker advocate, blogger, and organizer of the Sex 2.0 conference on feminism, sexuality and social media and co-founder of the Georgia Podcast Network. Her blog is Being Amber Rhea.

Ren is a sex worker advocate, a stripper, Internet porn performer, swinger, gonzo fan, BDSM tourist, blogger, history buff, feminist expatriate who blogs at Renegade Evolution. She is a founder of the Blog for Pro-porn Activism and a contributor to Bound, Not Gagged and Sex Worker Outreach Project – East.

Stacey Swimme has worked in the sex industry for 10 years. She is a vocal sex worker advocate and is a founding member of Desiree Alliance and Sex Workers Outreach Project USA.

Elizabeth Wood is co-founder of Sex In The Public Square, and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nassau Community College. She has written about gender, power and interaction in strip clubs, about labor organization at the Lusty Lady Theater, and she blogs regularly about sex and society.

To view the press release for this event, click here. Please feel free to distribute it or post it!

And for more information you can contact me via the contact form on my profile page , or at elizabeth (at) sexinthepublicsquare (dot) org.

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Filed under human rights, pornography, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex work

A Valentine for Gene Nichol

So maybe this isn’t your typical Valentine’s Day post. This is in reaction to the letter Gene Nichol addressed to the College of William and Mary community yesterday announcing his resignation as President of the college. It was a love letter, of the sort that comes at the end of a sudden and painful breakup. (Mimi alerted me to it. I found it published by the campus paper, DogStreetJournal.com, but it’s widely Google-able. Here is the transcript and audio of a passionate statement he gave to supporters. Video is available here.)Gene Nichol at a rally after his resignation

Nichol resigned after being informed that his contract would not be renewed. The nonrenewal seems to be largely because of controversy regarding four important decisions he made.

I really can’t speak to the quality of his presidency overall. I wish I could, though, because based on recent coverage of his decisions I have a feeling I’d have really supported him. His own statements indicate a love of free speech, open society, diversity, and opportunity that are at the heart of what we support here on Sex in the Public Square.

I’ve excerpted some passages from his Letter to the Community, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing. Here is a passage regarding one “free speech” decision, which was over the Sex Workers Art Show, a traveling exhibitwe’ve supported here in the Square (we wrote about the controversy here), and one “separation of church and state” decision which had to do with the location of a cross on public university property:

First, as is widely known, I altered the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular College events — both voluntary and mandatory — in order to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the College’s welcome more generously to all. We are charged, as state actors, to respect and accommodate all religions, and to endorse none. The decision did no more.

Second, I have refused, now on two occasions, to ban from the campus a program funded by our student-fee-based, and student-governed, speaker series. To stop the production because I found it offensive, or unappealing, would have violated both the First Amendment and the traditions of openness and inquiry that sustain great universities. It would have been a knowing, intentional denial of the constitutional rights of our students. It is perhaps worth recalling that my very first act as president of the College was to swear on oath not to do so.

Then, not a sex or speech related decision, but one that is dear to me for different reasons:

Third, in my early months here, recognizing that we likely had fewer poor, or Pell eligible, students than any public university in America, and that our record was getting worse, I introduced an aggressive Gateway scholarship program for Virginians demonstrating the strongest financial need. Under its terms, resident students from families earning $40,000 a year or less have 100% of their need met, without loans. Gateway has increased our Pell eligible students by 20% in the past two years.

I teach at a community college. This was a choice of mine based on a feeling of commitment to low income students and to the notion that higher education should be accessible to everyone who wants it. Nichol’s work to make a prestigious liberal arts college accessible should be applauded. The fact that such a decision comes with institutional challenges is a given. I’m sure the college community was able to rise to those challenges.

Finally, in an ironic twist, Nichol tells us:

I add only that, on Sunday, the Board of Visitors offered both my wife and me substantial economic incentives if we would agree “not to characterize [the non-renewal decision] as based on ideological grounds” or make any other statement about my departure without their approval. Some members may have intended this as a gesture of generosity to ease my transition. But the stipulation of censorship made it seem like something else entirely. We, of course, rejected the offer. It would have required that I make statements I believe to be untrue and that I believe most would find non-credible. I’ve said before that the values of the College are not for sale. Neither are ours.

Free speech. Paid speech. It really does make a difference.

Listen to Nichol’s statements to his supporters and you hear even more of his love.

I understand that love can lead us into dangerous places. People do terrible things, sometimes, in the name of love. Not having been at William and Mary I really can’t know what the day-to-day feel of the Nichol presidency was like. Was he like the abusive partner who sometimes does beautiful things just to keep you off your guard? I suppose that is possible, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, it seems to be the “beautiful things” that were the controversial ones; those things that had to do with free speech, diversity and opportunity, and a balance between church and state, those are what the fight was over.

At a time when intellectual freedom is being attacked all over the place — just check the Free Exchange On Campus blog if you don’t already know this — people like President Nichol are to be admired and supported for their willingness to defend that freedom.

In an age when college education is both increasingly necessary and increasingly unaffordable, his decisions about opportunity are to be admired.

And in a media climate where it can be impossible to tell the sponsor from the source, the fact that he didn’t take their money to spin the story their way makes me all the more impressed.

I <heart> sexual freedom.

I <heart> academic freedom.

I <heart> openness, diversity and opportunity.

And this Valentine’s Day I <heart> Gene Nichol.

This post is also published on SexInThePublicSquare.org — its like this blog but with a whole lot more going on. Join us there!

Sex In The Public Square

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Filed under censorship, community-building, culture, Education, News and politics, public discourse, sex work, Valentine's Day

Free Exchange on Campus blog supports W&M students over Sex Worker Art Show controversy

Another reason why I love the AFT!The AFT is my national union and I love it because it has organized faculty across the country and we’re stronger for it. I love it because it takes academic freedom so seriously. And now I love it because, in showing its support for academic freedom, it actually, on its Free Exchange On Campus blog wrote clearly in support of the effort by students at the College of William and Mary to bring the Sex Worker Art Show to their campus .Here are some of the most important bits the blog post written by Chris Goff, one of the amazing AFT Higher Ed staffers I met recently at a leadership conference:

First the good news – a forum organized by the College of William & Mary’s Women’s Studies department on the upcoming Sex Worker’s Art Show demonstrated the college community’s willingness to engage in a discussion – an at time impassioned discussion – about controversial issues. …

Also, kudos to the Student Assembly for following the letter and spirit of the law and their own governing processes in approving funding for the show. Rather than making a decision based on the content of the show (a decision that would have been unconstitutional), student government members made their funding choices based on a well-defined set of criteria that can be applied regardless of what a particular activity is going to offer. …

Finally, kudos to the student organizers who are bringing the SWAS to campus. The show does promise to be an engaging look at important issues through the lens of sexuality and the sex work industry, mixing performance and monologues to comment on issues of racism, exploitation, and greed. Sure, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but neither are abstract expressionism or Proust. …

Unfortunately, though not entirely unpredictably, he also tells us:

What has become abundantly clear is that the students who have organized the SWAS have – against their will – been drawn in to a political game in which they’ve been reduced to pawns to advance the agendas of others. The decision to allow the show on campus is being used to build a case against renewing the appointment of W&M President Gene Nichol, the build-up to which put the organizers in the uncomfortable position of having to decide to bring the show to campus or protect the College’s administrative leader.

Additionally, the organizers are being subjected to harassment by political leaders who have the means to further intimidate.

There is more. I encourage you to click here to read the whole post.Then, I ask that you write a note to the students organizing the show to offer your encouragement. The student groups sponsoring the show include Voices for Planned Parenthood – voxpp (at) wm (dot) edu – and Lamda Alliance (the LGBT and allies group on campus) – gaystu (at) wm (dot) edu. Tell them you applaud them for their courage in standing up for an important program despite a tremendous amount of opposition.Then drop a note to the college telling them you support their putting on the show. (One easy way to do that is to use this email form and select “W&M News” from the drop down menu of subject options.) Whatever you think about sex work, it is extremely important to support the freedom to explore controversial ideas on college campuses.Last, consider writing a letter to the editor of the The Daily Press , the local paper that’s been covering the controversy. You can also use the “reader feedback” link if you want to send them a less formal comment. Tell them you are proud of W&M for taking on controversial issues and exploring them in innovative ways.If we stop students from exploring controversial ideas on college campuses we are headed down a very dangerous path. Perversely, the ones who would lead us down that path are the very ones who put forward legislation with names like ‘Academic bill of rights’ and ‘Intellectual Diversity In Higher Education Act’.All the more evidence for the urgent need to teach students critical thinking skills! The Sex Worker Art Show is scheduled to be at College of William and Mary on February 4.This post is also published on SexInThePublicSquare.Org — kind of like here, only bigger and better. Come join us!

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Filed under censorship, public discourse, sex work