by Madalina Olteanu, Bucharest

by Madalina Olteanu, Bucharest

The Rights of Transgender Sex Workers

10 May, 2019

by Madalina Olteanu, Bucharest

As we all know, sex work is frowned upon in most countries nowadays, even if it has been present within our society ever since ancient times. In ancient Rome, for instance, Roman men of high social statuses could have sexual encounters with prostitutes without having to worry about public disapproval, as long as they proved moderation and self-control. But given the current stigma even in the case of straight people, what is it like for LGBT sex workers to be a part of the industry?

In the case of transgender people, the reasons for engaging in sex work are quite tragic when it comes to the vast majority – living in a transphobic environment, where you have difficulty in finding jobs mainly because of prejudice, where school involves bullying most of the time, and where you’re denied legal recognition makes it almost impossible to adapt. This is why school drop-out rates and suicide rates are so high, exposing trans people to poverty and homelessness.

Prejudice deprives LGBT members of adequate healthcare as well – an ICRSE 2015 paper shows that HIV prevalence rates are higher among male sex workers than among the female ones, with 14% prevalence (data from 51 countries), and 27.3% prevalence for transgender women in the industry (data from 14 countries).

Things are no better in terms of violence and discrimination either. According to the Fundamental Rights Agency’s EU LGBT 2012 survey, 26% of the of the respondents had been threatened or attacked even at home, with a 35% rate among transgender respondents. In the preceding year, transgender respondents (22%) and lesbian women (23%) were the most likely to have been harassed.

Ördek, K. (2014) showed that 74% of the transgender respondents had gone through physical violence, with 68% having been verbally abused and threatened, and 44% having been sexually abused. In most countries, people have to face discrimination for being both a part of the sex working community and a part of the LGBT community, so it comes as no surprise that there are high levels of abuse from police officers as well: Crago, A-L. (2009) Arrest the Violence: Human Rights Abuses against Sex Workers in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia shows that 41.7% of sex working respondents reported physical abuse in the previous year, and 36.5% of them reported sexual abuse within the same period of time.

These statistics are depressing, given the fact that LGBT rights and sex work rights actually have a lot in common. First of all, these struggles are about body liberation, whether it’s sexual orientation-centered or it’s a personal job choice. In this manner, it would be absurd of LGBT members to ask for freedom when it comes to their bodily autonomy, but deny it to sex working members. The industry is as prosperous as it has always been, and it’s not going to disappear anytime soon. Therefore, regardless of any moral system, we have to care for sex working LGBT members as well. Without inclusion, there is no way in which their living conditions could improve.