First, I’d like to thank you all for coming out today. I know this is a particularly busy time of year for most of you, with the semester wrapping up. I’d also like to thank Laura Murray for making this documentary, let’s give her a round of applause. Laura documented a monumental piece of history. She saw a story worth following in the puta from Boca do Lixo. Gabriela’s attempt is in itself a major step for the rights of sex workers everywhere. I applaud Gabriela for her veracity, and the courage it took to be in the public eye, unashamed of her past, not hiding it but, embracing it.
In her own (translated) words, ‘you can’t start a movement if you’re hiding under a table’. When I first watched this film, that line stuck with me the most. ‘You can’t start a movement if you’re hiding under a table’. Look at all the, albeit debatably, successful social movements that have occurred in the last century. Visibility played a major role in all of them. Think of the March on Birmingham, how many people literally took to the streets to be seen. Or the sit-ins at cafe’s, showing that blacks deserve to occupy the same space as whites. Think of the Stonewall Inn, and the subsequent PRIDE parades, where queers rioted for love, marching in all their glory, showing the public that they existed and they were no longer afraid. Even today, we can see this in the Undocumented Movement, where students are coming out of the shadows and standing together to have their voices heard.
These are all pertinent examples of visibility as a foundation, a building block, in the struggle for the rights of oppressed groups. Legislators will create laws to keep the oppressed in the dark, and without a public face, they won’t know who they’re making these laws about. In my Sociology of Politics class, just last week, we read an article from the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, titled “Subversion of Social Movements by Adversarial Agents”. Now, this article was basically a war chest on how to infiltrate and destroy social movements in the most nefarious of ways, but what I thought was the single most effective tactic was described as ‘Expertly Directed, Incessant Proactive Manipulation of the Media”. Author Eric Nelson, depicted this as being most effective when : protesters are denied the legitimization that naturally attends meetings with public or institutional officials. If meetings are held, they must be off-camera, unannounced, and, if suspected, be neither confirmed nor denied. In short, don’t legitimize a movement by allowing it to have a public face.
It’s only been recently that sex workers have gotten any media coverage in our battle for rights, and that’s happened because people are coming out of the red bedroom, and into the public light. So what is keeping the majority of sex workers in the dark? Why have we hidden our beautiful faces for so long? Sure the law says what we do is illegal, but it was also illegal once to be gay, or wear more than three clothing items of the opposite gender.
Stigma. A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Stigma, the assumption that people who trade sex for a living are dirty or unclean. Stigma, the look on the faces of new acquaintances, old friends, and loved ones, when we discuss our experiences in the sex industry. Stigma is what the Sex Workers Outreach Project – Chicago fights , with educational trainings, outreach programs, a free legal clinic, and social events. But more than that, fighting stigma is stopping your friends from making jokes where sex workers are always the punchline, it’s listening to our stories and experiences, it’s understanding that not everyone in the sex industry is a victim of human trafficking, and recognizing our work as valid labor. Stigma, is puta and whore being dirty words, instead of the pretty ones Gabriela hoped they could be. Facing stigma, is something many of you have probably done in your lives, and so, I encourage each and every one of you to start your own little wars, and with election season around the corner, put your voice to good use. Vote for the Gabriela. Vote for the person who is going to do the most good. Vote for whoever is going to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Or put your ideas, and your beliefs in motion and run for office yourself, especially if you are part of a group that needs it’s voice heard. Don’t let your past stop you, don’t live under the burden of stigma. Embrace it, make it work for you. You might only get one thousand two hundred and sixteen votes this time, but next time you could win by a landslide. Ay Beijo Para Gabriela. Thank you.