December 6, 2008

Sex Work Awareness & the Calendar: Outreach, Fundraising, and Public Education


Producing a calendar for a fundraising project is not a new idea – it’s tried and true, and it conveniently means that there’s an actual product so there’s a tangible answer to “what do I get?,” a question that people getting friendly with a new organization are justified in asking (also, the end of the year is prime giving time). Another justifiable question is, “what will my money be used for?”

The organization that benefits from calendar sales – and at this point in the game is receiving all of the money from each sale through my store, since our costs are covered – is Sex Work Awareness (SWA). Sex Work Awareness is an organization that I co-founded with Eliyanna Kaiser, Kevicha Echols, and Susan Rohwer, and was created around the core belief that all sex workers have a right to self-determination; to choose how they make a living and what they do with their bodies.

SWA plans to use funds from the calendar sales to do our media skills training workshops Speak Up! for sex workers in New York and another city on the east coast. We will use the money to pay the workshop presenters, rent space and provide snacks, as well as provide a small stipend for workshop participants who might not otherwise be able to afford to take time out to take the day long seminar.

SWA will also allocate some funds to the development of a new media project, an alternative audioguide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 19th and 20th century European paintings. The audioguide, Red Light Met, will be available as a podcast on iTunes and will be chock full of information about prostitution and the arts.

So far, the calendar sales and outreach efforts have not been focused on the community of activists who work on sex worker issues. This is not because we don’t think that groups like the Sex Work Outreach Project and their many chapters, or SWANK, or PONY or the Desiree Alliance (or… or…) are important. It’s because so far the work of Sex Work Awareness, as exemplified by our project Sex Work 101, has been very focused on public education on issues that affect sex workers. The vast majority of the people who posed for the calendar and are buying the calendar are not sex workers, but they are expressing solidarity with sex workers and putting their faces, names, and dollars on the lines to support the efforts of a sex worker advocacy organization. And this is a great thing.

One of the calendar’s two producers, Diva, is a lovely example of what Sex Work Awareness hopes to see more of in the world. Over the summer, she made a few comments on her blog about sex workers (though she used other words) that I found offensive and misguided. I could have left a nasty comment or lashed out at her in some other way, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed that she just had never grappled with the issues that sex workers face, nor had she ever been aware of meeting someone who works in the sex industry. So I emailed her about it and started a conversation and sex workers that she was open to (though possibly a bit bewildered by at first). Sometimes people are straight-up evil towards sex workers – other times they say hurtful things because they haven’t ever had the chance to meet (and humanize!) a sex worker. This fall, Diva has been hustling like nobody’s business, along with Tess Danesi (who is also not at all a sex worker), to raise money for Sex Work Awareness and sell these gorgeous calendars.

I know that a conversation or an email thread with one person seems like a tiny thing. And throwing in $20 towards a calendar seems tiny too – but the sex worker activist movement is small, and every little bit counts. There are also a lot of asks this time of year, especially as we ramp up to the December 17th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, among many other things. But $20 isn’t much, and you’ll have a shiny, well photographed blogger pin-up calendar for your wall – or to take out of a drawer and peek at when the mood strikes you.

Buying a calendar for $20 helps Sex Work Awareness work towards reducing the stigmas faced by sex workers, provide support, and build a culture where sex workers can speak up and be proud.

2 Comments on “Sex Work Awareness & the Calendar: Outreach, Fundraising, and Public Education”


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