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Making sex work safe

This Magazine Staff

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I just returned from Toronto’s gay pride celebrations, and I was so thrilled to spend a few hours on Friday night at Goodhandy’s, Toronto’s “pansexual playground.” The bar is only one year old, but in that short period of time has established itself as a gathering place for trans people and their allies, alternative burlesque performers, feminist activists, queer musicians, and sex workers. It’s rare to find a space that serves so many functions, and proves that diverse communities can co-exist in harmony.
The bar, which hosts more mainstream musical events and dance nights, also features a members-only Diamond Room, where sex workers (largely trans women) can entertain clients in a safe space — one that is protected by a security guard and, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, shielded from raids by the cops.
In December 2005, the Court overturned the conviction of Montrealer Jean-Paul Lebaye for running a “common bawdy house” for the “practice of acts of indecency” after police busted his club, L’Orage, in 2000.
“Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society,” wrote Justice Beverly McLachlin at the time, opening the door for the establishment of businesses like Goodhandy’s.

But the refreshing thing about Goodhandy’s is that the owners don’t try to hide the fact that the space is used as a meeting place for sex workers and their johns. In fact, they celebrate this fact, and recently started opening at 4pm on Thursdays, “to develop an after-work crowd of businessmen who want a discreet chance to meet t-girls,” according to co-owner Todd Klink.
As it is, it’s quite difficult for sex workers to find clean, safe spaces to work in, where they aren’t likely to be harassed by bad dates or by the cops. The Sex Professionals of Canada are currently launching a constitutional challenge to Canada’s solicitation laws, which they say are discriminatory and expose sex workers to danger. They recently held a fundraiser to support their cause at — where else — Goodhandy’s.
After spending some time in a space that represents a real jewel in the crown of the sex workers’ rights movement, I was disturbed to read this police bulletin about a recent “prostitute/john sweep” in my neighbourhood (Hintonburg, an inner city community to the west of downtown). My ‘hood has a history of anti-sex worker vigilantism, which I took to task in a recent column for Capital Xtra.
How long will it take for the Ottawa police and city officials to realize that criminalization of sex workers only exposes them to further abuse and mistreatment?
Hooray for Goodhandy’s for supporting Toronto sex workers. Is anyone in Ottawa willing to make a similar statement?

— Cross-posted to Dykes Against Harper

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