Art Exhibit Shows Humanity of Sex Workers

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By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about sex workers in the District? Is it disgust or do you see them as people entitled to the same human rights and protections all Americans enjoy?

On June 6, a one-day pop-up gallery at The Stew used art to honor the beauty and dignity of sex workers. The Black Youth Project 100 and HIPS, a group working towards sex workers’ health and rights, organized the gallery and commissioned works from 10 artists for and about sex work.

Activist  Shareese Mone writing “Trans Lives Matter” on a piece of artwork at the gallery.

“This is explaining how we express ourselves, how we share our pain,” said Shareese Mone, a peer educator and activist at the DC Center for the LGBT Community, who

pushes for trans women’s rights, trans-empowerment, sustainable housing, and the decriminalization of sex workers. “I am trans, I am human.”

The exhibit, which attracted roughly 100 people, also explained the history of prostitution in the District and how police have historically targeted Black women and transgender women of color with related arrests and harassment.

“Black women, after slavery as a means of survival, engaged in sex work in order to provide for their families,” said Nnenna Amuchi, chairwoman of Black Youth Project 100. “So, we recognize this as key to Black women’s survival and we don’t think that people should be criminalized for their survival.”

The exhibit comes months after at-large Councilmember David Grosso floated a bill to decriminalize prostitution for consenting adults. It would also launch a task force to study the bill’s implementation and make additional suggestions for reform.

Baltimore-based artist and environmentalist Maus, who created more than a dozen paintings and scarves for the exhibit, just started learning about the move to decriminalize sex workers. She said she supports it, especially when it comes ensuring they get the resources they need if they’re interested in leaving sex work behind. “It’s more like getting help,” Maus said, “them actually being able to have a safe space.”