LGBT History month is ending today. To close this month, I will be attending the event organised by SERTUC LGBT network in Congress House.
At this occasion, I want also to remind the links between the LGBTQ communities and sex workers. When we read about LGBTQ people’s past, it is clear that they shared many similarities with other groups who were stigmatised for being sexual deviants.
In the nineteenth century, lesbians and prostitutes were often confounded. In Lilian Faderman’s book about women’s romantic friendships, she gives the example of two women who worked in a school and avoided being punished because the judge considered that only prostitutes could know that such sexual practices existed.
In Joan Nestle text Lesbians and Prostitutes: A Historical Sisterhood published in Jill Nagle’s Whores and other feminists, she explains how lesbians were often arrested with prostitution charges. Indeed, women living together without being married to a man were seen as prostitutes in a brothel.
In George Chauncey’s famous book Gay New York, he explains how late nineteenth century prostitutes and gay people were sharing the same spaces within New York subculture. Camp men and transvestites were often imitating prostitutes as models of femininity because they were the only women to be officially sexually active with men outside marriage.
Many of the struggles for LGBTQ liberation were shared and/or initiated by queer sex workers. In a previous article, I have already questioned the place of trans’women and queer sex workers during the Compton cafeteria riots in San Francisco and during Stonewall.
Since the success of the LGBTQ liberation however, many gay people tend now to forget that they used to share the same or similar status with sex workers. Maybe, it has become rare for LGBTQ people in the western world to face reformers who want to rehabilitate them, but this is still a reality for sex workers who are still criminalised and who most of them must hide themselves.
Yet, sex workers have brought some success to the queer movement. Let’s not forget for example all the homophobic politicians or religious men who were outed by male sex workers after buying their services.
On the other hand, there have been LGBTQ people who were supportive of sex workers’ struggles. In 1979, Maureen Colquhoun Labour MP and outed as a lesbian by the Daily Mail presented a Bill in Parliament for the decriminalisation of prostitution. The Bill passed a first vote but failed after an early election was called and that Thatcher became Prime Minister, killing any chance of success.
In the English Collective of Prostitutes archives, they mention the support sex workers received from their gay male friends when they occupied the Holy Church in King’s Cross in 1982. They say that they brought food to them in the church and took care of their children while they were protesting.
The Aids crisis reinforced the alliance between both communities affected by the same threat and stigmatised as scapegoats.
Today the links remain between both communities but we tend to forget that we have always been close. We need to know our common History to remain better conscious of the mechanism of sexual, gender and class oppression. Many sex workers are actually LGBTQ and would benefit by feeling welcome for who they are in both communities.