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WASHINGTON, D.C. — At press time, the Washington, D.C. Council Judiciary Committee was slated to hold a hearing on Oct. 17 in an effort to decriminalize sex work in the nation’s capital.

In advance of that hearing, LGBTQ advocates hand-delivered a letter signed by over 70 local, state and national LGBTQ and allied organizations to members of the council in support of the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318), which would remove criminal penalties from the buying and selling of sex in D.C. while maintaining existing laws on sex trafficking. It would also create a task force to monitor the implementation and effects of the act.

The letter explained that the current law “serves no valid purpose and is dramatically out of step with current research and knowledge, including about how best to combat the transmission of HIV.” As a result by removing it, “the bill would improve safety, public health and law enforcement’s ability to address both violent and property crimes.”

The letter stated that passing this bill would be “critical to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ community, including by improving public health and decreasing the vulnerability of marginalized sex workers, particularly transgender women of color.”

Statements made by some leading organizations conveyed their sentiments on the issue.

“Discrimination in employment, education, and housing against LGBTQ people and especially transgender women of color leads to increased participation in sex work by LGBTQ people. Criminalizing sex work punishes people for their survival, threatens their health and wellbeing, and exacerbates poverty. Rather than investing in more policing, DC would be better served by investing in our communities,” stated Senior Policy Counsel at National Center for Lesbian Rights Tyrone Hanley.

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Puneet Cheema added, “Criminalizing adults engaging in consensual sex work, often for survival, impedes sex workers’ access to health care services, puts them at risk of physical abuse from clients and police, and increases their vulnerability to exploitation by third parties. The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 is urgently needed to remove this brutal and outdated penalty for consensual sex work. Sex workers need resources, not criminal penalties.”

“We as a society cannot reasonably criminalize a choice that our discrimination has led many trans women to make. Decriminalization is but one needed step if our purpose is to help them instead of merely putting them out of sight. Better job training and employment opportunities are further steps,” GLAA President Richard Rosendall said.

info: nclrights.org.

Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.