© 2017 Stella Zine
The red umbrella is an international symbol for sex worker human rights.
I was a stripper in Atlanta for 10 years. I danced at many clubs in Atlanta from the late eighties all the way ‘til 2001. I danced at the Cheetah Elite on Baker Street, the Hotspot and Tattletales (made famous in a hair metal Motley Crue song Girls, Girls, Girls) on Piedmont Road, and many others. I found my stripper-home at a more working class club called the 24K where punk grrrls & biker chicks felt comfortable with all our wild colored hair, tattoos and piercings, creative expression that the more high-end clubs didn’t allow. It was on Cheshire Bridge Road, where I stayed at for most of the 10 years I danced in Atlanta.
While I was dancing and ever since I left the work, I have been involved in the Sex Worker Rights Movement, working to help end violence and oppression levied on sex workers, centering those of us who suffer the greatest oppressions.
From an activist and strategist point of view, how do we go about asking who should be centered in the sex worker’s rights movement and by proxy the whole women’s movement? Is the answer to ask who is getting arrested the most? I know that in Atlanta, according to the 2011 Georgia Bureau of Investigation [GBI], 89% percent of women arrested for solicitation were black and 11% were white. I don’t have a more current statistic, but I can imagine it’s pretty similar, and of course there are no GBI statistics on trans women although there should be.
Atlanta is about 50% black. So it comes down to the reality that black women and trans women are the ones who are being channeled into the prison industrial complex the most, in Atlanta anyway. And that is the group of folks that we as sex worker rights activists need to center and uplift in our movement here. I suggest for any activist in Sex Worker Rights Movement to do the same: look at your area and figure out who’s getting arrested more and do what you can to center those issues and their voices.
I knew I needed to bring red umbrellas to the Women’s March in Atlanta and represent in the sea of pink hats that many of the marchers wore.
I knew I needed to go…I had to go. I just couldn’t miss out on the biggest protest in U.S. history that was also a women’s march!! While I am a genderqueer femme who has done a lot of gender-fuck drag performance art, mostly identify as a woman; also I was AFAB*. And I have had to navigate the particular oppressions that women deal with throughout my whole life.
*Being assigned female at birth is only an aspect of how a person can identify their gender, and because I´m not binary, being assigned female at birth has only been an aspect of how I identify my gender. I say this as a shout out to the many trans women & trans men who marched at the Women’s March and who marched with me personally in Atlanta too. Being a woman is more about an identity and less about physiology.
In reading the manifesto/agenda (aka the Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles) of the women’s March to protest Trump’s inauguration, I saw there was a line including sex workers issues and lives that had been written by and included because of the fabulous trans activism of Janet Mock!
Some of the other more unconscious organizers of the DC Women’s March jacked around & flip flopped on whether they were going to keep the line and include sex workers in the agenda or not. They finally put a line acknowledging sex workers back in the March’s ‘Guiding Vision’ but the original line had been edited and conflated with trafficking. Which is a huge problem that adds to the stigmatization and violence sex workers face.
But whether they included sex workers in the official agenda or not, I wasn’t going to stay home because of a few people’s unconsciousness. For many of us who have been advocating for the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work, this is nothing new. We know so well because we’ve been in the heart of this messy feminist debate, aka the sex wars, since literally forever. A real movement of any kind involves lots of different opinions ideas and perspectives. And to anyone out there, even if you have a minority opinion, if you don’t see your perspective represented in an event that matters, show up anyway. Represent!!!
And so hell yeah I was going to represent at not only the biggest U.S. women’s demonstration but the largest march in U.S. history ever, of any kind. In my heart and soul, I absolutely had to go this March… and with a red umbrella!
I am reminded of a quote by a dear friend, Dolores French, who is a long time seminal global sex worker rights activist from Atlanta. She once told me told me that “sex workers are the foot soldiers of feminism.” She said this at a Take Back the Night rally in the late eighties in Georgia. That quote gets to the heart of why sex workers are absolutely necessary to be centered in the Women’s Movement.
Many of us who are both part of the Women’s Movement and part of the Sex Worker Rights Movement know that sex workers have been thrown crumbs over and over by certain types of feminists. But we need to go on and take our whole slice of cake and sit at the table whether we’re invited or not. Pull up your own chair or, metaphorically speaking, bring your own fold up camping chair if there’s not a chair at all!
Sex work, aka sexual labor, is a feminist issue, it’s a reproductive justice issue, it is a woman’s issue, it is a trans woman’s issue, it’s a labor issue, it’s an LGBTQIA issue, it’s a poverty issue, it’s a prison abolition issue… and nothing about us without us! We need to continually assert ourselves into these dialogs. Whether others are comfortable with it or not.
I brought a bunch of red umbrellas to the Women’s March, and I marched with two members of the new Atlanta SWOP! I saw some marchers from Charis Bookstore, the feminist bookstore in Atlanta that has always supported sex worker rights activism. There are many feminists in Atlanta who are supportive of sex worker rights and honor the fact that we brought Red Umbrellas, the symbol for sex worker rights.
Although it would’ve been amazing to be in Washington DC for the Women’s March, I went to the Atlanta March. I couldn’t get the time off of work and that much money together that quickly to get to the DC March. And honestly I knew the Atlanta March was going to be fantastic.
Atlanta is ground zero for the black women-led 90’s Reproductive Justice Movement, and of course, it was the hub of the 60’s Civil Rights Movement. And current activism in Atlanta is still grounded in prison abolition, which is what the local, national and global Sex Worker Rights Movement needs to always be.
So many activists and organizations in Atlanta have been doing the work for years and years to support an uplift sex workers who’ve been targeted by the prison industrial complex. They haven’t always use the rhetoric or had the red umbrellas of the global movement, but they have been doing the advocacy to help the most marginalized in the sex trade for a long time. I’m thinking of organizations like Sister Love, Sister Song, Southerns on New Ground, SPARK, SnapCo, and the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center, all which have been advocating for policies, harm reduction and health care for people in poverty and in informal economies who may or may not identify as ‘sex workers’. And many people from these organizations were marching in Atlanta that day.
Not only is Atlanta where I’m from. It just feels so sacred and awesome to have marched there with a red umbrella and with other folks that were either sex workers themselves or strong allies.
There is a new SWOP starting in Atlanta,and I marched with a few of their members. It’s was so lovely. We also marched with a prison abolition group, World Without Police whose members are also great sex worker allies and supporters of decriminalization.
Over 60,00 people came to the Atlanta March. It was the largest protest in Atlanta’s history. I love the streets of Atlanta: that’s where I grew up and where I get my energy, my inspiration; that city has my soul. I’m so glad to have been a foot soldier there holding a Red Umbrella in the sea of pink hats at ATL Women’s March.
Photos by Tori Miller and Stella Zine