Occupation of St-Nizier church

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2 Jun

In 1975, sex workers in Lyon suffered heavy repression and the government was considering a new legislation which could include a prison sentence among other penalties. In April, Lyon sex workers started organising, and their leader Ulla appeared on TV for the first time to expose their demands.

On June 2nd, they occupied Saint-Nizier church. A banner was displayed stating “our children don’t want their mothers in prison”. They were demanding an end to fines and police harassment.

Surprisingly, the movement made all the newspapers headlines and was reported internationally. Sex workers received important support from the population who brought them food and clothes. The abolitionists were also supporting them hoping that the mobilisation could raise awareness among them so that they eventually stop prostitution.

In many other cities, sex workers imitated the movement and churches were occupied in Paris, Marseille, Grenoble, Saint Etienne and Montpellier. The government finally decided to act and sex workers were brutally expelled from the churches by the police on June 10th in the morning. Ulla, the movement leader was outed with her real name and photographs published in the press. The Interior Minister accused them of being manipulated by pimps while the Women rights Minister claimed she was not competent on the issue. The government refused any form of negotiation and instead ordered a report which was ignored once published in December 1975.

Other actions took place during the year as well as a national conference in November 1975, but the whole mobilisation stopped shortly after.