SONG Joins Growing Number of LGBTQ Organizations in Opposition to the Atlanta Banishment Ordinance

SONG opposes the proposed Ordinance to amend Chapter 106, Article IV, Division 1, Section 106-127#

[For background on this Ordinance visit http://www.ajc.com/news/news/atlanta-proposes-controversial-crackdown-on-prosti/nWLnX/   & http://us.topnewstoday.org/us/article/4733008/ ]

**Due to the growing opposition and work of our comrades and allies the city council has agreed to table the proposed ordinance. This discussion is critical for Atlanta and cannot be resolved without a comprehensive proposal.

Why We Oppose:

Sex workers are NOT the problem: lack of housing options, lack of educational opportunities and jobs, as well as violence, are the problems. As LGBTQ people we do not agree that banishing sex workers makes anyone or any place safer or better. On the contrary: if Atlanta banishes sex workers, then on the conscience of our City sits the very same community segregation we say we oppose, and the exile of people just trying to get by in a form of work that many privately participate in, but most condemn publicly. SONG will not stand by for this.

We are LGBTQ people, and many of us know firsthand about poverty, drug addiction, exploitation, incarceration, discrimination against those with criminal records, and criminalization against people with HIV/AIDS.  Many, though not all, sex workers are impacted by the above issues, and many sex workers, though not all, are LGBTQ. It is from this perspective that we oppose any sanction that we believe punishes survivors of exploitation but does not address the root causes that makes prostitution is a viable option for some people. If the Council’s real objective is not merely to make certain areas of Atlanta “nicer” for tourists; or to simply jail and banish poor, predominantly women and trans people of color sex workers–but to truly address the causes and consequences of street level prostitution, we contend that there are far better solutions and actions our city can and must take.

Cities around the country have shown that increasing policing does not actually reduce prostitution. Street level prostitution is a public health and safety issue, and here in Atlanta there are organizations and agencies which do the daily hard work of supporting sex workers who want to get off the streets and into a different life.  As far as we know, none of these organizations have been contacted by the Public Safety Committee requesting input or suggestions.

Further, we are troubled that the committee did not reach out to any of the women or transgendered people actually engaged in this work or with prior convictions for it.  We hope the Council agrees that these individuals are stakeholders in this conversation and their voices should be heard. If the Council does not agree that those most directly affected should have a voice in this issue, than there are community organizations and leaders that are committed to helping those voices be heard.

As SONG, we are clear that not all sex workers are forced into this kind of work or want out of it. But many do. We are deeply invested in stopping the exploitation of women and transgendered people, in strengthening communities, and reducing violence and crime.  It is with this concern and investment that we offer the following suggested solutions.

The Solutions we Recommend:

(1) Invest in Prevention Services

First and foremost, we propose that the city council invest heavily in proven prevention and intervention services outside the jurisdiction of the police department and the criminal justice system.  Organizations such as the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition and others understand this problem, and what it takes to address it and they are woefully under-funded under-resourced.  We contend that intervention and services outside of jails are the most cost-effective and have the best results.  Again, if what the council is interested in is curbing and reducing street level sex work; organizations that provide crisis intervention, mental health care, family reunification, education, and other services are what is needed.  We request that the City Council research possible funding streams from the federal, state, and local level for future funding.  As the council has indicated this is a timely and sensitive issue that needs immediate attention, we ask the council to immediately divert funding to these services as well.

(2) Addressing the ROOT causes

Because we recognize the root causes of street-level sex work to be lack of housing options, lack of educational opportunities and jobs, as well as violence, we ask that our city first and foremost address these causes.  We know all too well that they drive not just sex workers, but many other LGBTQ and other low income and poor workers further into poverty and the underground economies where their health and safety will continue to be compromised.  The city has a responsibility to ALL of its residents to address these root causes, not simply to punish those who as ‘seen’ as evidence for ALL of society’s ills.

[Our gratitude to members of the Atlanta Ham Reduction Coalition http://www.atlantaharmreduction.org/,the Young Women’s Empowerment Project http://ywepchicago.wordpress.com/, and Women On The Rise in the drafting of this statement, and for their leadership & continued work.]