Red umbrellas are a symbol of sex worker rights and activism. Image via Shutterstock / Composition by Samantha Cole 

What it Was Like to Lobby on Capitol Hill as a Sex Worker

Activist, cam model and queer pornographer Anna Moone writes about her experiences lobbying for sex workers' rights in Washington, DC.

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Jun 6 2018, 4:59pm

Red umbrellas are a symbol of sex worker rights and activism. Image via Shutterstock / Composition by Samantha Cole 

Anna Moone is an activist, porn performer, and cam model. In her spare time she is also a writer and a graduate student. She is passionate about her work, her cat, and her views on craft beer. You can follow her on Twitter at @annamoonesyou

It was late on a Friday afternoon and sex workers from all over the country had taken over an Irish Pub in Capitol Hill. Surrounded by government employees having drinks to celebrate the end of yet another week, we were talking about our work, the success we had just had, and how we can support each other moving forward. Taken in by the magnitude of the moment, I couldn’t help but think of everything that had led us here.

I am a proud sex worker; I am a cam girl, and I make queer porn. I also have a strong background in community organizing. I lived in Washington, DC for five years and was involved in all sorts of activism while living there. I am no stranger to Congress; I’ve engaged in direct action both outside and inside congressional halls. I’d long since moved away from DC, but when I heard that sex workers were gathering in Washington to make change, I knew I had to join. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to stand up and fight for my community.

And so, on June 1, I was one of approximately 40 sex workers from all over the country who converged on Washington DC to make history. For the first time ever, sex workers were a lobbying force in the halls of Congress.

Read more: 'Sex Trafficking' Bill Will Take Away Online Spaces Sex Workers Need to Survive

Our goal was to begin the process of building relationships with our representatives, to have Congress view us as a community that they represent and must be accountable to when drafting legislation. It is so easy to “otherize” a marginalized community when you don’t personally know—or think you don’t personally know—someone from that community. Our mere presence meant that our representatives couldn’t pretend we don’t exist anymore. While we didn’t come with a specific legislative agenda, we did come with a message: We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere!

I expected these meetings to be an uphill battle of fighting for our humanity, but we all left the meeting feeling surprisingly hopefully about our prospects for the day

Earlier this year, Congress passed the FOSTA-SESTA package, and it was signed into law by President Donald Trump on April 11. SESTA received overwhelming bipartisan support—it was approved by the House 388-25 and the Senate 97-2. Despite being popular in Congress, SESTA is an incredibly dangerous law that has already had disastrous consequences. While proponents claimed it was a bill designed to fight sex trafficking, what SESTA actually does is amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 states that websites like Facebook and Twitter that host content by third parties aren’t civilly or criminally responsible for the content that third parties post on their sites. SESTA carves out an exception in Section 230, so that websites now are responsible for content hosted that pertains to sex trafficking. The problem is that our government does not distinguish between sex trafficking and consensual sex work, and so websites are being forced to clamp down on anything that even looks like sex work.

Read more: As a Trafficking Survivor, Lobbying for Sex Worker Rights Gave Me Hope

In the wake of SESTA passing, Craigslist completely shuttered its personals section, Microsoft said they will monitor Skype calls and ban people for nudity, and a whole host of sites that sex workers used to safely advertised were forced to close. To top it off, the government seized advertising website Backpage, and the result is that every avenue that sex workers use to make a living is under attack. And so, sex workers did what any marginalized community does when forced to fight for their lives; we organized. This is how a group of sex workers—organized by the Sex Workers Outreach Project and Survivors Against SESTA, decided to do something that we had never done before. We lobbied on Capitol Hill.

The lobby day itself was quite a whirlwind. In the morning, we all gathered together to meet and go over the agenda for the day. There was also a lot of media there to interview and film us. After lunch, we were split up into a dozen groups and were told which representatives’ staffers we would meet. And so, three other sex workers and I rushed off to the halls of Congress to begin our meetings.

Our first meeting was with a staffer for my own representative, Dwight Evans (D-PA). Rep. Evans unfortunately voted for SESTA, but the staffer we met with was incredibly kind and supportive of us. We spoke for an hour about the issues sex workers are facing nationally, as well as locally in Philadelphia. The staffer made it clear that he personally supports sex workers and wanted to know what he could do to help mitigate damage and support us going forward.

Read more: Pimps Are Preying on Sex Workers Pushed Off the Web Because of FOSTA-SESTA

I expected these meetings to be an uphill battle of fighting for our humanity, but we all left the meeting feeling surprisingly hopefully about our prospects for the day.

Even more surprisingly, the other two representatives whose staffers we met—Mark Takano (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA)—both voted against SESTA. Instead of having to explain why SESTA is a harmful bill, we were able to spend our meetings strategizing on how to work together better moving forward. In addition to feeling that the law would hurt sex workers, both Takano and Beyer felt that this bill would make it harder to stop sex traffickers, and they both also had concerns that SESTA might expand mandatory minimum sentencing laws. They also gave us advice on what other staffers and representatives would make good allies for us to reach out to and build relationships with. Finally, they told us how important it was that we came to speak with them, because sex workers contacting our representatives about how bills will harm us gives them the information they need to use to justify opposing bills.

Before leaving, I stopped in the office of Brad Schneider (D-IL), had a brief unscheduled conversation with one of his staffers, and left them some documents about why it’s important to support sex workers. When all the meetings were over, we all gathered together to celebrate a successful day!

This gathering on Capitol Hill is far from the end. It is instead the beginning of a new wave of a movement for sex worker liberation that has been going on for decades. The connections we made with approximately 30 congressional offices provide a new opportunity for sex workers to help create legislation that supports us and kill legislation that would harm us. In addition, the connections we made with each other will help us strengthen our national grassroots movement. We left invigorated, feeling like we as sex workers can truly affect the changes that are needed for us to be able to live and work safely.