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2016 National LGBT Conference
1 January 2016

Conference notes that the resolution “LGBT and sex worker organising and the fight against HIV” adopted by 2015 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Conference recognised that:

1. Amnesty International’s decision making forum, the International Council Meeting (ICM), had voted to adopt a policy to protect the human rights of sex workers and to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work, and that the large number of organisations signing the Open Statement of Support for Amnesty International’s Draft Policy on Decriminalisation of Sex Work, submitted to Amnesty prior to the ICM, included sex worker rights, anti-trafficking, LGBT rights, Trans, women’s rights, feminist, human immunodeficiency/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), human rights and migrants’ rights organisations;

2. The World Health Organisation 2014 guidelines for helping to prevent the spread of HIV in the most-at-risk populations, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, and transgender people, recommend that countries decriminalise same sex behaviours, non-conforming gender identities and sex work;

3. Significant developments internationally had strengthened the links, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, between LGBT organising, sex worker organising and the fight against HIV;

4. The National LGBT Committee should work to facilitate dialogue on the issue of criminalising those who purchase sex acts and raise these issues with the National Executive Council (NEC), with a view to reviewing and advancing UNISON policy in this area.

Conference therefore welcomes Amnesty’s publication in May of its “Policy on state obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of sex workers”, which includes advocating for the decriminalisation of consensual sex work.

Conference believes there is extensive evidence, including the latest report from Amnesty International in Norway, of the harms caused by the ‘Nordic model’ of criminalising sex purchases, that criminalisation of any kind, including of buyers, increases harm to sex workers, particularly to the most vulnerable sex workers who are disproportionately likely to be trans, lesbian, gay or bisexual, disabled and/or people of colour. Sex buyer laws do not decriminalise sellers (as is often claimed) and reports of policing in Norway and Sweden show that these laws are used extensively against Black women. The latest Norwegian research by Amnesty International details the extensive harm including forced eviction, deportation and denial of medical care used against women selling sex, with Nigerian nationals particularly targeted. Globally, research shows that sex workers experience huge levels of police violence, and many consider police violence a greater risk that violence from clients. Even in countries where the selling of sexual services is not a criminal offence, such as the United Kingdom (UK), many other laws criminalise activities surrounding it, including the criminalisation of sex workers who are working together for safety.

Conference notes that LGBT people, especially trans people, are at more risk of living in poverty. They are also more likely to have limited working options, particularly in countries where medical transition is difficult, costly, slow or otherwise restricted. This includes the UK, where National Health Service waiting times for transition-related healthcare are incredibly long. For many, sex work may be one of very few options available. Criminalisation increases both danger and poverty.

Conference believes that people cannot be criminalised into safety. We believe that decriminalisation for safety’s sake offers the most immediate improvement to the lives of sex workers in the UK and globally, improving the relationship they have with the police and allowing the very real issue of exploitation to be addressed.

Conference therefore welcomes the recommendations in the July 2016 House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee interim report on its Inquiry into Prostitution that the criminalisation of sex workers in England and Wales should end, and that the government should immediately change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and amend the laws on ‘brothel keeping’ so as to allow sex workers to share premises rather than risk working alone.

Conference notes that the Committee’s inquiry is continuing and will be looking, in regard to changing the laws on buying sex, at the various legislative models, including the model of full decriminalisation used in New Zealand and the “sex buyers law” as operated in Sweden.

Conference notes that UNISON’s current policy on sex workers, adopted in 2010, is to support proposals which decriminalise the selling of sex acts and the introduction of a sex buyers law criminalising the purchase of sex acts and those who profit from the sale of others. Further, the 2016 national women’s conference voted to condemn Amnesty International’s 2015 policy supporting the total decriminalisation of sex work.

Conference therefore believes that UNISON needs to review its existing policy, and call for full decriminalisation of all forms of commercial sexual activity, for the safety and wellbeing of all people who sell sexual services

Conference calls on the national LGBT committee to encourage discussion of these issues in regional and branch groups, widening the dialogue and making available information and evidence. This should include information about the impact of legislation targeting sex buyers, the call for full decriminalisation and Amnesty International’s policy on state obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of sex workers

Conference therefore instructs the national LGBT committee to continue to work to facilitate dialogue around these issues and to:

A. Raise these issues with the NEC;

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

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

D. Report back to 2017 LGBT Conference.