LGBT and sex worker organising and the fight against HIV

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2013 National LGBT Conference
1 October 2013

Conference notes that the Global Commission on HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and the Law’s 2012 landmark report “HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health” presented compelling evidence that laws that protect human rights strengthen AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) responses. Its recommendations relating to the most-at-risk populations in terms of HIV, including men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, and transgender people, include the repeal of all laws that criminalize consensual sex between adults of the same sex and/or punish homosexual identity, or criminalize transgender identity, and law reforms to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. It also recommends: “Countries must reform their approach towards sex work..[and] repeal laws that prohibit consenting adults to buy or sell sex…”

Over 80 countries have since initiated follow-up action.

Conference further notes that in October 2012, the United Nations published an unprecedented study “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” assessing laws, policies and law enforcement practices in 48 countries that affect sex workers’ human rights and impact on the effectiveness of HIV responses. It identified that those which are harmful to the HIV response include the lack of employment rights in almost all of the countries, and called for the decriminalisation of sex work, support for the empowerment of sex worker organisations, and for governments to apply the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Recommendation on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work to sex workers.

At the 2012 International AIDS Conference, the ILO held an event on recognition of sex workers’ employment and human rights, and a preconference saw the launch of the Robert Carr Doctrine, agreed by the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, Global Network of Sex Work Projects, Global Action for Trans Equality, and International Network of People Who Use Drugs. This called for a rethink on global strategy on AIDS, which, it argues, is not just a public health issue but a symptom of underlying societal inequalities and injustices.

Conference recognises that these and other developments internationally have strengthened links, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organising, sex worker organising and the fight against HIV.

Conference notes that 2010 LGBT conference adopted a resolution “Protecting sex workers and tackling prostitution” which recognized there are divergent views within the LGBT group on the issue of criminalizing those who purchase sex acts and acknowledged “a need for continuing dialogue, especially where these issues affect men and trans people who are sex workers.”

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to work with the National LGBT Committee to facilitate such dialogue, with a view to reviewing and advancing UNISON policy in this area, and to:

1. Offer solidarity to international groups working to organise sex workers where this is linked with the fight against HIV and for LGBT rights;

2. Publicise, within UNISON, the link between sex workers organising internationally and improving health and social justice for people living with HIV and LGBT people.