Permanent Memorial for Sex Workers Planned in Vancouver, Canada

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Regional Correspondent North America and the Caribbean

Sex workers in Vancouver, Canada, are planning to create a permanent memorial for their coworkers. Sex workers announced their plans at a community meeting on November 4, 2015.

The West End Sex Work Memorial Project was founded by sex worker activist Jamie Lee Hamilton and sociologist Becki Ross of the University of British Columbia. The memorial is planned for Vancouver’s West End, an area where many sex workers worked in the 1970s-80s.

Speaking to Daily Xtra, Jamie Lee Hamilton explained why that time period was important. “We were very organised. I call that the golden era of prostitution. We were a pimp-free zone. If a pimp came down, we’d tell him to put on some lipstick and suck cock like the rest of us.”

The West End is also known as the “gaybourhood,” Vancouver’s gay village. Several sex work strolls used to operate in the gay village. Many of them were used by trans and male sex workers. Hamilton herself used to work on Davie Street, according to her interview with Daily Xtra.

However, resident groups eventually pushed sex workers out of this part of the city. A municipal bylaw was passed in 1981 to force sex workers to stay away. The bylaw lead to sex workers moving into more dangerous areas, where serial killers such as Robert Pickton preyed on them. The memorial aims to make sure this history is not forgotten.

Sex workers are planning the memorial for the corner of Jervis Street and Pendrell Street. Suggested plans include a Victorian streetlamp and a bronze stiletto heel. Former sex worker Fraser Doke has suggested a bench be added to the plans.

Hamilton and Ross held a community consultation at St Paul’s Anglican Church on November 4. Sex workers, community organisations, and city planners were in attendance. The memorial will be Canada’s first public tribute to sex workers. Its proposed budget is $28,000 CAD. The project has received support from the City of Vancouver. Following the Pickton trial, the City now recognizes the rights of sex workers. The City now employs a city social planner specifically for the needs of sex workers.

The City would also like to see a memorial in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The Downtown Eastside is where many sex workers currently work. Hamilton discussed the need for a Downtown Eastside memorial to be distinct. “We can’t have this in the Downtown Eastside because of the tragedy that went on down there,” Hamilton told Daily Xtra. She says that she supports a separate memorial for the Downtown Eastside.

Planning for the memorial has been underway for eight months and is expected to continue. The West End Sex Work Memorial project has existed for several years. Previously, they also hosted screenings in 2009 of “Hookers on Davie,” a documentary about sex work in the area. The screening included a “commemorative stroll” through the neighbourhood, according to Daily Xtra.