Democrats and sex workers

The Proposition 35 endorsement puts sex workers and their families at risk


OPINION The California State Democratic Party and Senator Barbara Boxer have let the sex workers of California down. They need to be taken to task for endorsing Proposition 35 without ever hearing the opposition. No more bragging rights to that big-tent democracy.

A little background: Prop. 35 is described as an anti-trafficking bill aimed at protecting children. But in reality, Prop. 35 further demonizes and marginalizes sex workers and includes sweeping, broad language that could turn spouses, relatives, and even children of workers into criminals. Under Prop. 35, my son, who served in the military and is now going to college, could be branded as a criminal — forced to register as a sex offender for life — if I used money from my erotic service work to support him. Sex workers and their allies all over the state are united in opposition to this measure. Proposition 35 qualified after a signature-gathering effort funded by a $1.6 million donation by former Facebook executive Chris Kelly. Like other politically ambitious people before him, Kelly picked an easy issue. It couldn't have been hard to find one of those anti trafficking groups desperate to locate "victims" to extend their taxpayer-funded existence. With a title like "Human Trafficking. Penalties. Sex Offender Registration. Initiative Statues," proponents are betting it will pass without due deliberation by the electorate.

But before the state Democratic Party, at its summer convention, endorsed the measure, the delegates could at least have sought input from the sex-worker community.

It's a huge struggle for marginalized people like myself to get access to democracy. Now there's a ballot measure to further criminalize us. And we've been betrayed by the California Democratic Party.

This is unacceptable to me, and I hope it's unacceptable to you.

After the endorsement vote, a staff person tried to defend the party's actions to me by saying more than 300 delegates at the state convention had voted Yes on 35. I was told that if I didn't like the process, I could try to become a delegate to the party convention next time around.

The party functionaries don't seem to realize that this idea is completely unrealistic for me, particularly in a state that has criminalized my occupation. If Prop 35, passes, I will be lucky by the next Democratic Party convention to have received forced "services" while trying to qualify for food stamps after I've been forced out of my profession.

There seems to be no room in the Legislature, the ballot process, or the Democratic Party for a small unfunded group of highly vulnerable constituents like us to have a voice to stem the tide of further disenfranchisement.

Those concerned with democracy for the little people should call all Democratic leaders and tell them to act in the true spirit of democracy and hear from the only state registered opponent to Proposition 35 — and reverse their support of this misguided measure.

Maxine Doogan is a member of the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project.

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