This year’s International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), held in Washington, DC, wrapped on Friday with a keynote address from Bill Clinton. Bill’s relationship with the biennial conference began six years ago in Toronto. I was there, and I remember it well!
I am, in fact, wearing the t-shirt from the Toronto conference as I write this. The super-hot bilingual Sex Worker tee, produced by the Montreal girls. (I’m sorry, but no matter how blasé or well-traveled you are, “travailleuses du sexe” has more caché than “sex workers.” It just does. And it helps when your t-shirt comes with a matching banner.
Back to AIDS 2006. We (sex workers from seven continents) were dispersed throughout the Toronto Convention Center on Front Street everywhere. Some were featured on panels, others were staffing the Sex Workers Networking Zone.
The red-headed founder of a well-known prostitutes’ rights project spotted President Clinton, strolling with his retinue. “Bill!” she called out. “Do you want to have sex with ME?” Her generosity was rewarded with one of those expansive Clintonian smiles the rest of us only see on TV.
At AIDS 2012, the must-have item was a green Statue of Liberty crown defiantly stamped “Sex Worker? Visa Denied!.” During key sessions – such as “The Oldest Profession: Is Sex Work, Work?” – these Liberty crowns were displayed throughout the audience, on the heads of human rights wonks. Who might also be sex workers. Or not.
By Wednesday, stickers were appearing on water coolers: “Where are all the sex workers?”
Where indeed? The conference was just not the same without their visible presence.
At AIDS 2008, 300 sex workers from everywhere gathered in Mexico City – and 500 marched from the Angel of Independence monument to El Zoaclo.(T-shirt was hot pink that year!) In Vienna, at AIDS 2010, African sex workers carrying red umbrellas, led a passionate pissed-off global protest against American policies (which affect more prostitutes in more places than you’d ever have imagined.) Videographer Paul Kidd wasn’t in DC this year, and neither were most of these protestors:
There were less than a hundred of us in DC! So… what happened?