The history behind International Whores Day is one of my favourite stories in the whole wide world; demonstrating the determination and resilience of sex workers, the kindness of strangers, and the strength and solidarity of women.
On the 2nd of June in 1975, around 100 street-based sex workers decided they'd had a gutful of police being more interested in harassing and arresting them, than in solving murders and other crimes committed against them. They took over a church and staged a sit-in, in protest.
As the days wore on, the police became more and more impatient. Instead of attempting to negotiate with the sex workers and resolve their issues, the police just threatened them with increasingly harsh penalties. When the protesters still showed no sign of backing down after a full week in the church, the police announced that they were going to have the sex workers' children removed from their homes.
This cruel threat outraged the women of Lyon, who promptly walked into the church and joined the sex workers in solidarity. If you're going to remove the sex workers' children, the women said, then you're going to have to remove ALL our children - because how can you tell the difference between one mother and the next?
The police eventually stormed the church with batons and the protest ended in violence, but the sex workers' stony determination and the awesome display of solidarity from the women of Lyon empowered others to take a stand, sparking similar protests in Marseilles and Paris. In the end, many of Lyon's sex workers had their fines written off and, more importantly, full-scale police investigations into unsolved sex worker homicides were launched.
The protest in Lyon inspired sex workers around the globe to organise and become politically active, and the modern sex worker rights movement was born. In 2010, there are hundreds of sex worker organisations, networks, lobby groups and peer-based outreach services, all around the world. In places where sex work is illegal, sex workers rally for better laws and access to justice - where sex work is lawful, sex workers demand better work conditions and an end to discrimination. And across all sectors and in all nations, sex workers continue to fight for the right to have their murders investigated, to not be harassed by police, to not have their children removed, and to be accepted and supported by their community. The basic right to be treated with dignity and respect.
To sex workers the world over...Happy International Whores Day! May your fight one day be won.