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Celebrating International Sex Workers Rights Day at the Dark Lady with Coyote RI



Coyote RI, a sex worker’s rights organization, celebrated International Sex Workers Rights Day at the Dark Lady on Tuesday evening “to honor sex worker rights as human rights.”

The event was emceed by Amara Berry, Coyote RI’s director of advancement. She explained that “day’s history goes back to 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit.  The event was organized by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group that has over 50,000 sex worker members, and members of their communities.  Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3rd March as an annual, international event, as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.”

Pat Ford, chair of the Rhode Island Libertarian Party, gave a sort of keynote speech. “Self ownership and bodily autonomy is really at the essence of the Libertarian movement,” said Ford. “Absent coercion the state… has absolutely no place getting involved in a consensual relationship where sex is involved, whether it be for sale or not.”

Bella Robinson is the founder and executive director of Coyote RI. She has worked in the sex industry for over 35 years, and she is dedicated to supporting policies that promote the health and safety of sex workers.

Robinson called special attention to Senate Bill 2589, which would “provide for criminal penalties for permitting commercial sexual activity and allows for the use of wire taps in instances of human trafficking and where commercial sexual activity is permitted on a premises.”

This bill, said Robinson, “was suggested by the Attorney General and will be an attack on Asian massage parlors which is racist. We do outreach to those spas. we know no one is being trafficked there.”

Elena Shih, Coyote’s Research Director, spoke about some of the consequences recent news about the coronavirus is having on Asian massage parlors “due to rampant racism and fear.”

“Clients aren’t coming to Asian massage parlors anymore,” said Shih. “So something that we’re working on is different kinds of community care kits to respond to the virus.” This is not to say, added Shih, that any “of these things condemn the work of intimate erotic labor or sex work in massage parlors… this is to point out the systemic flaws that exist between working class people all around the world and their employers. So it’s nothing about the sex in these places that makes Asian massage workers any more vulnerable, but due to the increased surveillance and criminalization of them in light of the war on trafficking, we find them even more vulnerable in these particular times.”

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Prabhdeep Singh Kehal is Coyote’s Communications director.

“People don’t like talking about sex,” said Kehal. “So to organize, change the laws, create political power to actually fight for decrim [the decriminalization of sex work], or fight for policies that actually lead to decrim, that will lead to an ethical and safe market for workers, because sex work is work.”

Ari Toole is CoyoteRI’s Youth Coordinator and Matthew Marciello is Coyote’s Office Manager. Both work on CoyoteRI’s TV show The Good Neighbors on Rhode Island cable access.

The Good Neighbors “is the first TV show on sex workers rights,” said Toole.

“We try, every episode, to bring in community partners,” said Marciello. “Because we believe that sex work impacts all different communities.”

Yanhoo Cho is Coyote’s Project manager of Migrant Outreach Project.

“My job is to go to the Korean massage spas in Providence, North Providence and Pawtucket… maybe like once a month to talk with them and provide resources,” said Cho. “But more importantly to try to communicate and encourage them the set the boundaries [on communication] with me themselves and communicate to me what they actually need instead of me being presumptuous an d assuming what they might need.”

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.