Introduction: From Radical Roots to Institutional Formation
As with many of America’s radical histories, the history of the sex worker liberation movement has been suppressed, whitewashed, and politicized by media and both sides of the two-party political system. Prostitutes have a long, rich history of resisting the institutional control placed upon them, as evidenced by Parent-Duchatelet's nineteenth-century research. American sex workers have been publicly mobilizing for change since the 1960s and have made communities and resources for themselves when formal institutions refuse to provide for them. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the trans women of color associated with the 1969 Stonewall riots and queer liberation movement that followed, were also existing as sex workers at the time when they began organizing for an end the U.S.’s heteronormative and violent attitudes toward sexuality. This exhibit will explore the variety of ways in which the sex worker’s movement has championed their primary causes: stigma, health and safety, and public policy. From direct actions and the formations of collectives that characterized the early movement, to the nonprofits and social media communities that exist today, sex workers have fought for their wellbeing and survival through any means necessary and have succeeded in shaping public attitudes, even if most public policy has remained unchanged.