Denial of Service: Sex Workers Confront Dr. Eric Goosby and Protest the Anti-Prostitution Pledge

Since the opening plenary for the International AIDS Conference (IAC) on Sunday, July 18th, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) has been a vocal and visible presence at the conference. NSWP members have challenged both policy makers and funding agencies to break with the status quo, which perpetuates institutional violence and violation of sex worker’s human rights that lead to a higher rates of HIV infection and death. On Tuesday, July 20th, NSWP organised sex workers and allies to disrupt a speech by United States Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. Eric Goosby to demand justice for sex workers harmed by PEPFAR’s discriminatory anti-prostitution loyalty oath. Download the NSWP press release about the protest, a one page English PDF, here. Here are some reports from NSWP activists who were there:

“On Tuesday, July 20 sex workers’ rights activists marched through the IAC conference centre to protest the PEPFAR Anti Prostitution Pledge at a session at which was to be a presenter. Eric Goosby cancelled his speech to avoid the sex workers and instead held a press conference in the media centre. Sex worker activists followed him there, where we loudly accused him of murdering sex workers and preventing the crucial funding for sex workers. Everyone was upset and challenging him to be responsible and support human rights for all. I sat on the table with my red umbrella and screamed that he was a murderer, and everyone was chanting “SHAME SHAME SHAME!!!!” He tried to escape and fell from his chair, and then he was helped to his feet by security and escorted out. The media stayed in the room and sex workers were venting their issues of concern. For example, in Uganda the only funding is for rehabilitation and there is NO money for condoms. In Kenya there is no funding for necessary sex worker support services, only rehabilitation. All who receive money from USAID’s PEPFAR fund have to sign an anti-prostitution loyalty oath. We left chanting, “sex workers united will never be defeated!!! PEPFAR kills sex workers!!!”

--Cheryl Overs, Paulo Longo Research Institute, Asia and the Pacific Region

The above video is of the protest, featuring some of the sex workers’ chants and impassioned speeches from Kyomya Macklean, of the Ugandan sex worker group WONETHA, and John Mathenge (in still frame), a male sex worker from Kenya. 

“After we chased Goosby out of the press conference room, sex workers from around the world took over the microphones and held their own press conference while the whole world was watching and declared that we will follow Goosby to every presentation he makes until he answers for the crimes of PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution pledge.”

--Will Rockwell, Global Network of Sex Work Projects, North America Region

“The protesters toured the Center for Media, carrying red umbrellas and placards with slogans. One of the interviewees was the prostitute [Kyomya] Macklean, Uganda: "We want respect, recognition, social inclusion, and dialogue with our political leaders. And we can’t do all this without funding. " After a few minutes, everyone was ushered out of the Center for Media, but continued to move through the wide corridors of the Convention Center, moving in the direction of the Global Village. The group celebrated the impact of the action at the booth of the Global Network of Sex Work (NSWP), which promoted the protest. Sex workers from around the world demand that the U.S. funds to fight AIDS, via USAID's PEPFAR program, do not discriminate. It is essential to support sex worker organisations in order to strengthen HIV prevention.”

--Flavio Lenz, Davida, Latin America Region

Editor's note: Flavio's statement is based on a rough translation using the Google translate tool. Click here for the original version in Portuguese. Four years ago in 2006, at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, NSWP member Melissa Ditmore and journalist Erin Siegal collected footage and interviews for a short film on PEPFAR and how it harms sex workers – not much has changed. Watch the thirteen minute film, Taking the Pledge, here