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.  

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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.

 
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez speaks during a meeting hosted by the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn.
 
Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the Democratic Caucus pass GENDA and ban Conversion Therapy

BROOKLYN, NY.  After years of inaction, a newly Democratic-controlled State Senate today passed key legislation long-sought by the LGBTQ community: the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and a ban on the fraudulent practice of so-called Conversion Therapy.  

Passage of GENDA prohibits, among other things, discrimination in employment and public accommodations against transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming members of the LGBTQ community. Banning conversion therapy ensures that LGBTQ and questioning youths will no longer be subjected to this barbaric and fraudulent practice, which has disproportionately affected Brooklyn youths, with no proven outcome other than depression, anxiety and suicide.

“LID and LGBTQ people across Brooklyn, New York City and the State, showed-up in force to elect Democratic senators because we needed these critical protections to finally become law” said LID President Scott Klein.“I’m thrilled to see the entire Democratic Senate caucus back GENDA; they have heard our voices and responded, remarkably, within one week of taking office.”

“It’s about time that New York State recognized the vital rights of transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming communities to be free from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression” said Alejandra Caraballo, an incoming 2019 LID Board member. “As important as GENDA is, we know that this is only a first step toward addressing long-overlooked needs of marginalized members of the LGBTQ community.”  

“As a born and raised New Yorker, and survivor of so-called conversion therapy, I’m proud to stand with State Senator Brad Hoylman” said Matthew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect.  “The State legislature has shown its commitment to protecting all youth in the state, from Brooklyn to Buffalo.” 

LID members, in coalition with many Brooklyn Democratic political clubs, campaigned vigorously this past summer and fall to elect State Senators who vowed to fight for and protect the most vulnerable in our community. In Brooklyn, LID campaigned for Zellnor Myrie (Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Prospect Heights, Park Slope, Sunset Park) and Andrew Gounardes (Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Marine Park). We heartily thank them for their steadfast support of our community.  

LID is also especially grateful to the many advocacy organizations out there that have long advocated for these critical reforms, including Equality New York, the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG), the LGBT Center, and Born Perfect, among others.  

Contact: Jared Arader