On Wednesday morning, I joined a group sex workers and sexual civil liberties activists denouncing the incitement of Jeffrey Hurant, the CEO of Rentboy.com. We met outside the Brooklyn Federal Court, where Hurant was due to appear, to demand that federal prosecutors drop charges against Hurant and six others who were arrested on the August 2015 raid by Homeland Security and the NYPD. The arrests triggered street protests across the country. Activists on hand called for the US attorney from the Eastern District to drop the charges, as well as decriminalize the practice; they suggested that the event the prosecution was part of a far larger attack on the behavior of consenting adults, policing bodies and ideas, often violently. For two decades Rentboy.com has proudly offered an advertizing platform for escorts. Those on hand suggested this was a clear case of prosecutorial overreach. For sex workers, the Rentboy Raid is every day. The NYPD makes thousands of sex work related arrests a year. While millions are spent a year to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking, the NY Times notes that this investigation had yielded little evidence of sex trafficking. Rather it triggered a crackdown on consenting adult sex workers.
"LGBT activists, civil liberties advocates, sex workers and their allies join together on a protest against the indictment of Jeffrey Hurant and Rentboy.com and the criminalization of sex work. — with Sarah Wellington, Randolfe Wicker, Benjamin Heim Shepard, Bizzy Barefoot and Fussy Lo Mein at Brooklyn Supreme Court."
Arriving, several of the activists who had been at the rallies the previous summer were there. I spoke with Bizzy Barefoot.
“I’m here because lives need to be saved. This is about the least amongst us,” he explained. “I want to see sex work decriminalized... Drop the fucking charges. This is about money”
Standing talking to Buzzy, Jeffrey Hurant walked by.
“We love you Jeffrey. We love you!” everyone screamed.
“Sex work is real work. Sex work is real work!”
“Unjust bust, unjust bust.”
Several nightlife activists were also on hand to support a colorful public sexual sphere. Jomo showed me a flyer for his new sex party, Daddy Up, build in the spirit of Liddell Jackson’s old Jax o color parties.
“The illustration is from a German woodcut from Dante’s Inferno,” he explained. “I wanted to have my own gay event and what better way than something with lots of sex, creating a life positive vibe with people meeting, whether hooking up or not, and dancing.”
Several sex workers were there to speak out and show solidarity, and call for the full legalization or at least decriminalized the practice. “Criminalization of sex work globally contributes to stigma & dehumanization, leaving sex workers vulnerable” explained Sarah.
“I think the legalization of sex work will help stop the trafficking that everyone uses as an excuse to crack down on sex work,” noted Zaria, arguing sex workers can be part of the solution.
Randy Wicker, the iconic gay activist often credited with holding the first Gay picket line in US history, was there. He recalled his days in the trade.
“I chose to do sex work on Hollywood Blvd during the summer of 1959. The choice was simple – survive for ten weeks by hustling - being able to hang out & screw all the pretty queens in the all night coffee shop – or – getting some terrible 9-5 job and miss being a 21-year-old Hollywood hooker. I learned more in that summer than I did the next year at the University of Texas. A good score would get you $20… but there were times I’d settle for whatever I could get. Once I went with a guy in a Corvette and let him serve me in an A & P Parking Lot for $2.00. Hookers don’t talk about those days. They love to tell you the time someone gave them $100.00 for just humping them on the thigh backstage at a strip show- something that has ceased to exist. Actually I’d go to be both a John and Madam. I remember paying for sex that summer – a gorgeous guy who had not interest in me was short on money. I happened to have it. So I got what I wanted and his electricity stayed on. Working as a prostitute for that summer made it possible for me to get up and go to work from 9 to 5 at the most hideous jobs for the early years of my life – because I’d never want to go through that I’d gone through hooking ever again. And I learned to be a better John – especially during times of matrimonial strife… and then as a business man taking care of his dying mate without times for clubs and or extra marital romance…. I’ll save some of the juicier stories for the autobiography I’ll never write. Just a few more stories now and then to keep my reputation just tacky enough not to be so damn boring like all those proper LGBTQIXYZ activists… I’m love to add those three letters for fun. I’m not worried about my reputation. Never got caught at anything and at age 78 I spend more on $40 viagra pills than on sex workers….I was stopped by a cop on Hollywood Blvd. He’d caught me in a car and saved me from being with a “sexual pervert.” The cop said something about “niggers” and “communists.”
“I know there are some nice negros,” I volunteered. “There are probably some nice communists too.”
“Wise guy,” he responded and made me sit there for 45 minutes while he ran a check on meat the FBI. I came up clean and slithered away with my mouth zipped shut. But if that happened today and something had gone wrong, I would never have been able to get a student loan for college. Not necessary in the late 1950’s. We were a class country in those days. No tuition in places like California. All you had to do was feed yourself and get some housing and you could get an education. My entire fabulous life might have been destroyed. So I’m demonstrating as a retired sex worker.”
Randy was holding a Marsha P Johnson sign, to keep her memory alive. Like Marsha and Sylvia River, Wicker ties his story into a larger culture narrative about the need for human freedom and justice for everyone. The story dates back ages, with roots extending in countless directions. Yet, the lament remains the same. Stop the war on sex work. Stop the war on the poor. Sex worker right are human rights.
|Wicker then and now. Top Randy Wicker, Craig Rodwell, Renee Cafiero 4th in 1964. Bottom 2016. Fifty years on the front lines of movements for sexual freedom. |
In 1964, Randy Wicker recommended to the Sex Freedom League a picket at an induction center for the U.S. Army. “We went down there to the induction center on Whitehall Street (in Manhattan) on September the 19, 1964. Renee Cafiero was there with her lover. Craig Rodwell was there—twelve all told. Yet, not much press.” In subsequent years, the event was recognized as the first gay picket line..