VIDEO: Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez Backs Decriminalization of Sex Work
“Decriminalizing Queerness,” a forum hosted by the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, brought together lawmakers and advocates to discuss criminal justice reform in the LGBTQ community.
Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez announced his support for the decriminalization of sex work at a Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn (LID) forum Thursday night (watch on Facebook Live).
“I believe in decriminalization” said Brooklyn’s top prosecutor, following a wide ranging discussion addressing his efforts to reform the District Attorney’s office. In a discussion with LID members, he also addressed his office’s current policies, which provide sex workers the the option of enrolling in services and taking a number of steps before dismissal of their cases.
Following Gonzalez, a panel consisting of State Senator Julia Salazar and DecrimNY representatives Jessica Raven and Jared Trujillo addressed the stigmatization, overpolicing and lack of resources faced by particularly by transgender and queer sex workers of color.
“Decriminalization offers best and most effective way to address problems associated with the sex trade” said Salazar. “Of the people who are criminalized for prostitution related charges, a disproportionate number of them are transgender or gender non conforming” she said, adding that the issue touches on racial and gender profiling as well.
Trujillo and Raven, both former sex workers, provided an in-depth analysis of the myriad issues faced by juvenile, transgender and gender non-conforming sex workers, including lifelong criminal records and deportation. Trujillo, a public defender who is also President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (UAW 2325), touched on his own experience, and experiences of his clients who turn to sex work for survival.
“Decriminalization is about the fact that so many people, not just in the LGBTQ community, have been left behind by our efforts to lift people up,” he said. “It's about the fact that 94% of people who are arrested for loitering for prostitution are black and brown women, many of them are trans, even here in Brooklyn.” Loitering for the purpose of prostitution is a common charge against sex workers in addition to the using the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution. Salazar noted current legislative efforts to address the issue, and Gonzalez discussed his office’s prohibition on the practice, which has the impact of discouraging the use of condoms altogether.
“It’s exciting to see the LGBTQ community lending its power to this movement” said Jared Arader, LID’s President. “LID and the LGBTQ community have always paid close attention to how the criminal justice system impacts our community” said Jared Arader, LID’s President. “We can’t stop keeping pressure on our legislators and policymakers to fix that which continues to hurt our community.”
The forum opened with State Senator Zellnor Myrie, who touched on marijuana, voting, housing and the state budget process. Though discouraged that this year’s state budget did not include marijuana legalization, Myrie expressed the importance of any such future marijuana deal including expungement of prior marijuana related convictions.
Arader, who is also an attorney, noted that gay political activism has developed on a continuous trajectory over several decades, beginning with the recognition of basic rights of gay people to congregate at bars (2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a seminal moment in LGBTQ history), to same sex marriage and most recently this year, with the passage of the Gender Employment Non Discrimination Act (“GENDA”) and a statewide ban on conversion therapy.
LID has served as Brooklyn’s only progressive LGBTQ Democratic Party organization since 1978. Its’ leaders have gone on to become Brooklyn’s first openly gay council member, district leaders, community board members and numerous other leaders. In recent years, LID’s presence has grown across the borough as younger members outside of its traditional Park Slope base have joined its ranks.