The first sex workers' rights group in the United States, Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE), was founded on Mother’s Day 1973. The group was established by Margo St. James, a former sex worker who had been arrested in the 1960s, then went to law school and later successfully overturned her own conviction.
Prior to setting up COYOTE, in 1971 St. James founded a group called Whores, Housewives and Others (WHO). “Others” referred to lesbians as, at that time, the word “lesbian” was rarely said out loud. WHO organised to “expose the hypocrisy in laws that controlled female sexuality, primarily prostitution.”
COYOTE was founded as a “loose union of women” and continued the fight for legal change; called for the decriminalisation of prostitution, and sought to provide legal and medical services for prostitutes. It also offered employment, health and financial counseling, and worked to educate the public about prostitution through publications, speeches, and seminars.
COYOTE received a grant from San Francisco’s Glide Foundation, and organised the first prostitute’s convention at the Glide United (Methodist Church); the organisation published its COYOTE Howls newsletter from 1974 to 1979. In October 1974, COYOTE hosted its first annual Hookers’ Ball, a well-publicised event that drew famous guests and raised money for COYOTE’s bail fund, which was intended to free women from dependence on pimps.
In 1999 St. James opened the St. James Infirmary, the first occupational health and safety clinic for sex workers in the United States.
Sex Workers Unite; Melinda Chateauvert, Beacon Press, Boston 2014
Coyote (Organization). Records, 1962-1989: A Finding Aid. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.