Toronto
2 min

Supporting sex workers

Not in my backyard has become the battlecry of the property owner. Sometimes it’s understandable. I think we all agree that having a propane storage facility next door might not be such a great idea, for example.

But when it comes to sex, especially in this community, things should be different. This is supposed to be a sex-positive community, where the choices adults make are celebrated and protected, and those having sex — whether casually or professionally — are left alone.

But that sex-positive attitude has gone missing in the neighbourhood of Homewood and Maitland, where some residents are trying to drive out the transsexual prostitutes who have used the area for so long it’s become known to some as the “tranny stroll.” (See story on page 7.)

The Homewood/Maitland Safety Association — which claims five members — formed in May to try to force sex workers from the area. They chose to call themselves a safety association, they say, because they’re looking out for the safety of the workers as well as the residents. It’s not about their property values, in other words.

Since the formation of the safety association sex workers say they have been verbally and physically harassed. Abusive emails claiming to be from residents have been sent to supporters of the workers. Flyers threatening to post the licence plate numbers of johns online have been sent around. Even city councillor Kyle Rae has called the emails and flyers “hateful.”

The safety association denies any of its members have been responsible for any of this, but admit some of their neighbours may have “overreacted.” They admit the sex workers have been there for years, but say their numbers have gotten larger this year and they’ve gotten louder and more violent.

The safety association’s solution: move them out. They admit they don’t know where they could go, but they want them out of the neighbourhood. Where they should go is a question they say Rae and the 519 Community Centre should be answering.

Rightly both of those have refused to support the residents. As The 519 points out, moving transsexual prostitutes to an area where clients may not know they’re transsexuals could be a death sentence.

This is not how the queer community should react. When gay men are bashed while cruising, when police bust them for park or washroom sex or raid the Pussy Palace, the community protests in the streets.

But when it comes to women who actually depend on sex for their livelihood, parts of the community are ready to turn their backs on them. It should be noted that not all residents — and probably not even most — support the safety association.

“This has been a community and a neighbourhood where sex workers have been able to work safely,” one resident told a pro-workers rally on Aug 15. “If women are moved from here some will die. I am proud to say to my so-called neighbours that theirs is not the side of the street to be on.”

Sex workers are on the streets to make money. It’s not in their best interests to cause trouble for anyone, or to fight with each other. The women say they try to police themselves, to get rid of the troublemakers. That’s the sort of the thing the safety association should be trying to help with. Groups like The 519 or the Sex Professionals of Canada could help mediate agreements around that sort of accord, if the safety association will accept the women as part of the community.

And if the safety association is truly concerned about the safety of the sex workers, it should be advocating for decriminalization of prostitution, so the women could legally solicit for business and form cooperatives to work inside.

It looks like there’ll be a federal election this year. I hope to see the safety association making decriminalization an issue for incumbent MP Bob Rae and his opponents.