Ever wonder what happens to your donation after a fund-raising campaign wraps? We asked Amy Saunders, the organizer behind this IndieGoGo effort how the money raised will actually provide crucial services to sex workers in Toronto. With 11,355 CAD of their 10,000 goal received, does the outpouring of support speak to a turning tide in public awareness about sex workers rights? Saunders weighs in on this question, on how to be an ally, and what American non-profits you can get involved with.
Mainstream feminism has had a contentious relationship with sex work and sex workers for decades, do you think the tide is turning?
It would seem that the conversation, while ongoing, is turning into one more of support rather than condemnation. Sex work is one of the oldest trades and professions, perhaps it’s time that anti-sex work feminists are recognizing that sex work is something that is built into our system and we should fight for the rights of ALL women, regardless of their choices we may disagree with.
Personally speaking, I believe feminism is about my right to choose – and that is to choose sex work or not. My job as a feminist is to ensure all women have the privilege to choose their paths and lives and make their own decisions with safety and empowerment.
Your IndieGoGo campaign was wildly successful, why do you think that is? Do you attribute it to the high-profile endorsements you have from Belle Knox, Mia Isabella and Tasha Reign or the fact that more and more people are realizing the dire need for funding that supports sex workers and sex workers rights?
I think it’s a mix of both – our high-profile endorsements certainly gave us quite a boost on social media and in terms of gaining covering in many publications such as Huffington Post, Flurtmag.com, and The Daily Xtra. But I also think these endorsements in general shed light on the process of the conversation we are having, globally, on sex work. Most people don’t think of Porn Stars as sex workers, as though there is some sort of difference in having sex for money on camera versus not on camera. These high-profile endorsements have worked to change that perception — a lot of people love the work Belle Knox, Tasha Reign and Mia Isabella do — these women have followers and fame and power — why shouldn’t the same respect and admiration be given to sex workers who do different types of sex work? Strippers, street workers, call girls and boys, escorts, etc. we are all just as sexy as Belle, Tasha and Mia. We deserve the rights and respect these women have.
What are the next steps now that you have raised the funds you requested? How will the campaign directly benefit sex workers in Toronto?
The funds raised during this campaign all go towards expanding our resources and outreach programs. Quite literally, this funding will keep us stocked with condoms, lubes, safe injection kits, advocacy and safety paraphernalia and all things you can think of to keep sex workers safe and healthy while on the job. Further, the funds will go towards maintaining and expanding our programs – from our drop-in lounges, to our street out reach, to our legal and political advocacy work – each aspect of Maggie’s is vital to our community and we want to be able to continue to serve our communities’ needs as best we can. Each penny, each dollar, helps us actualize our goals.
What are other ways to be an ally to organizations like Maggie’s besides cash donations?
To be an outspoken advocate of sex work in general is always helpful. There is so much stigma around sex work (and maybe even sex in general?!) in our society, that to speak out as a person who enjoys sex, sex workers and wants to be able to enjoy these things safely and with dignity, is a contribution to our cause that goes beyond numerical or financial value. To live a life without shame or guilt around enjoying sex, especially as a woman, a queer and/or a trans person, speaks volumes in the conversation on sex work and the dignity therein.
Why the red umbrella? Can you give a brief history of its symbolism within the sex workers rights movement?
From my understanding, the Red Umbrella was first used in Italy in 2001, when sex workers took to the streets, marching with red umbrellas. Their aim was for the umbrella symbol to bring attention to the bad working conditions and human rights violations they faced. I understand that the International Committee on the Rights for Sex Workers in Europe adopted the symbol four years later. since then it has become an international symbol in the fight against discrimination for sex workers. To quote SWANNet, the Sex Workers Rights and Advocacy Network, “Red is a color of beauty and an umbrella is the resistance to sky’s and humans’ attacks. It symbolizes protection from the abuse sex workers are subjected by the police, pimps, customers, and an ignorant and biased society.”
What other organizations would you suggest to check out in the US that do similar work to Maggie’s?
There is a huge network of Sex Worker Rights and Advocacy organizations. Some notable ones we have worked with in the States include: HIPS, Different Avenues, Sex Worker Outreach Project, St. James Infirmary, and the Network of Sex Worker Projects.