Gabriela Leite, a (former) sex worker, and tireless campaigner for sex workers' rights, passed away last night at the age of 62. She will be deeply mourned by sex workers and sex worker rights activists around the world, and particularly in her native Brazil.
The film A Kiss For Gabriela tells the story of her extraordinary life, and her 2010 attempt to get elected to the Brazilian Congress. The film's website explains, "She began organizing with sex workers in the late 1980s in response to the frequent rights abuses she witnessed among her colleagues. She fought for recognition of the profession by deconstructing stigma around prostitution and giving it new meanings. In 1987 she organized the first national meetings of sex workers in Brazil, started participating in the international sex worker movement, and founded the newspaper, 'Beijo da Rua' – Kiss from the Street, as a way to circulate new discourses that affirmed women 'of the life' as social and political beings. She encouraged the movement to enter into the fight against AIDS by promoting health as a right and a means to citizenship."
Her 2010 election run was on a platform of defending Brazil’s Universal Health System, civil union for same-sex couples, the legalisation of abortion, and decriminalisation of sex work. A Kiss For Gabriela notes, "Gabriela did not win, but she also has not stopped her transgressive fight for rights." A Bill is currently before the Brazilian Parliament's Congressional committee, which would make a distinction between sex work and sexual exploitation, and decriminalise sex work.
The passing of Gabriela Leite will be a huge loss to her friends and colleagues in Brazil and throughout the world. Sex workers and activists everywhere will be thinking of her family, friends, and colleagues today, and celebrating her extraordinary life.