November 18, 2008

Some thoughts on Proposition 8

While the passage of Proposition 8 is tragic, there is a greater scope for change here. Though marriage rights should be extended to couples of ALL kinds, the bigger travesty is that there are a set of rights that are ONLY available to married couples. When there are many families that are composed of non-traditional participants (meaning something other than parent-parent-child), particularly in low-income situations, we need laws that reflect the needs of these familes, not just married couples.

Several rules rely on the requirement of marriage to enable access - healthcare, insurance, adoption rights, and many more. The disturbing part is that making marriage more ubiquitous comes at the cost of those families composed of non-coupled members. For example, when Massachusetts opted for greater marriage equality, this came at the cost of several private institutions revoking health insurance access for non-married domestic partners. For a family composed of a woman, her father and her niece who all rely on the woman's job for access to health insurance, this access is no longer an option. Because many queer individuals experience alienation from their traditional families, many come together in their own alternative family structures, which may or may not center around a couple structure. While marriage equality promotes access for those who choose traditional couple-dom, what does it do for those in families that do not?

I am not opposing marriage equality. I think marriage, as a symbol of love and commitment, should be accessible to all who want it. However, in its current form, marriage is more than just that symbol. It is used as a means to promote unequal access to several economic and social institutions, many of which represent basic human rights (health, for example).

Though making marriage universal allows a greater amount of access to those who choose marriage, it also passively works against those families (queer and straight) who live in families that have no place for this traditional institution, but need the "perks" that come with it.

July 23, 2008

I'm currently sitting on a bus from NYC to DC...

...and I'm online. What a scary and wonderful thing technology is. I suppose you could say the same thing about hard drugs.

July 13, 2008

Choice, Rights and Trafficking

A friend of mine emailed me with the following question:

I am wondering about the issue of workers rights. The issue of rights for a 14 year old feel blurry, especially if she is a foreigner or is being forced into the job. Economically, they need to make a living, but some of these girls are kidnapped or lured from former Soviet states and then they have no choice but to be involved in the trade. It seems to me there is the matter of kidnapping or being forced into it, but also another issue if girls feel they must do this business to survive because there are no other economic opportunities for them, including education or non-sex related work. Obviously, if someone is choosing that field it is one matter, but wouldn't the rights of someone forced into the sex trade include help getting out of slavery?

Here's my response (and I'm really curious to hear your thoughts, too!):

I think the issue changes a lot when talking about young girls as opposed to adult women. It's the conflation of everything into one problem: trafficking and sex work are thought of as the same thing (they're not), young women and adult women in the sex industry are all the same (also not true, but "poor adult women" are thought of in this very paternalistic way that they need to be protected from choosing options that "we know better" about) This results in making policies that apply homogenously to these very different populations and situations, which then lead to further rights violations. I've heard sex workers complain that when they got pulled into the industry, no one was helping them even though they said they didn't want to be there, and now that they're established as sex workers, anti-trafficking law enforcement doesn't listen to them when they say that this is the viable economic option they chose. Hence they feel denied choice on both counts.

There's also issues in terms of street children, homelessness, lack of educational opportunity, etc, etc, and when the economic/livelihood concerns are not being addressed, then it becomes that you are rescuing women (young or adult) but then having them do what? There's a huge emphasis on rescue, with little follow-up on what happens after that - and while I understand that people view the rescue part as being urgent and an emergency - but without follow-up, this methodology actually leads to more individuals being pulled into trafficked situations.

It also disturbs me that while we are livid about trafficking into the sex industry, we remain rather complacent about trafficking into all other labor. Which leads to the question: is it the trafficking and the exploitative circumstances we are livid about, or is it the existence of a sex industry?

What Do I Really Do Anyway? A 101 on Sex Worker Rights in India (and ITPA)

So I've been emailing a lot about my work lately, and there's some pretty interesting discussion coming out of it. I'm putting it up here for all to read. Feel free to post comments!

Hi guys!

This email is for all those of you who wonder what I actually do (hi mom and dad!):

So most of you know that I do work around HIV/AIDS and a lot of the time, I do stuff around rights of sex workers. But every now and then, you ask me the question, but what is it exactly that you DO? I have a perfect opportunity to fill you in right now, so I'm taking it.

I do a lot of things, but the part that I like best is that I'm a rights activist and community organizer. What this means is I try and raise awareness about how legal rights for sex workers (or the lack thereof) impact the lives of women and men in the sex industry and how the current policies needs to change. Raising awareness can mean a lot of things: writing articles, holding events (like rallies or press conferences), working with NGOs to get them to show their support for a group (by offering services, coming to events, signing a petition, etc.), writing letters to legislators, sensitizing press so that they cover an issue in a responsible and accurate way, teaching others in the community how to do effective organizing, supporting sex workers in networking efforts, etc., etc.

So recently, in India, there have been plans to amend this act called the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act which is the law that governs the Indian sex industry. Generally it is a very problematic law that has been consistently mis-implemented for the past 50 years of its existence. Basically, while the law is meant to penalize those who force individuals into the sex industry, it has mostly been used by law enforcement to harass and violate the rights of those who sell sex (whether because they are forced to or because it is a viable economic option that has been chosen by a particular individual).

The plan for amending it includes a whole bunch of proposals which would most likely drive the industry further underground, making for less safe working conditions for sex workers.
To read more about this check this.

So with this disaster in the works, the community of sex workers in India decided that we needed to raise awareness and protest these amendments. A lot of different organizations did a lot of different things, but in Pune, the sex workers' collective (Saheli) did some street theater to educate residents of Budhwarpeth (a red light district in Pune) about how this would impact their lives. The event was planned for July 1st, which was deemed a national day of protest for this issue.

What did we do to prepare? We did a press release, we notified other NGOs to get involved, we circulated a petition that is now being sent to legislators, we brainstormed ideas to perform for the event, and we contacted the press to come to the event.

So what happened? A great event! We reached an audience of over 1500 people in the area including sex workers, area residents, area visitors (aka the general public), customers, and anyone walking through Budhwarpeth that day. And the best news is that not only did we directly reach these people, but we got great press coverage the next day in 3 newspapers (2 english, 1 marathi - local language) through articles that were accurate and non-sensationalized (thanks to our press release!). So the numbers that we educated on this issue are multiplied greatly.

For those of you who are interested, the press coverage is available online. One article is at the link here (Indian Express)

So, now you know what I do. Questions, comments, and suggestions always welcome. :)

July 12, 2008

What Inner Human Rights Defender Are YOU?

This was really fun. I think this is the best quiz I've ever taken (Thanks, Heddy!)

December 27, 2007


It has been a rough week. I am surprised to have the energy to blog. Ok, yeah I don't really.

Happy new year, peeps. I wish you love, peace, happiness and a dearth of hurt, both incoming and outgoing.

November 29, 2007

Connecting Far-Away Dots

Tonight I went to this meeting of a childcare collective, and it was amazing for so many reasons. One of them being that it gave me a chance to think about how I feel about raising children and how it relates to the other work that I do.

I remembered a party that I went to in Hyderabad last year for the holidays. My friend who hosted identifies as gay, and he and his partner live in an extended family set-up, with him and his partner, his parents and his siblings and their families. I remember being there and feeling like the space was so familiar - the usual desi party with all the feelings I associate with my own experience of tradition. But then it was also this great, totally inclusive queer space as well, where all the dividers of gender and sexuality that I associate with my own traditional South Asian experience (based in my family and community interactions) were all lifted.

One of the best parts of the evening was seeing how my friend's niece interacted with her uncles - and seeing their family bond in this space. It was this incredible experience, and yet I felt sad that it was an experience to be amazed about. I wish it was one that I could take for granted, because all spaces could reflect the same inclusiveness. I also noticed how the inclusiveness extended around age as well, with kids happily sharing the space with adults.

And that made me think about how sex & sexuality and children & child-rearing are conceptualized as the opposite ends of reality (although, presumably, at some point one led to the other!) but have everything to do with each other. Everything I've been learning about sex education, about organizing with sex workers & sexual minority communities, about gender roles & relationships: the topic of children comes up in every space. And yet in so many ways, our world only considers how to "protect" children from an awareness of all things related to sexuality...

May 15, 2007

Feminism != Male-Bashing

I was recently told that I am not as much of a male-basher as my feminist ideology would purport me to be. A string of recent conversations, including this one, have gotten me thinking about what it means to call oneself a feminist. Especially as many feminist organizations now seek allies in men, I started wondering where the male-bashing behavior fits into the movement.

And it led me to the following anti-climactic epiphany: Feminism came after male-bashing, not the other way around.

The popular perception of being a feminist is that of being a man-hater, a male-basher, a generally bitter and vindictive-on-behalf-of-my-gender female. But feminism is a relatively modern phenomenon. Opposite sex-bashing, on the other hand, is not so new. The war of the sexes, so to speak, has been a coping mechanism for both women and men for... ever.

For example:
The guy you've been seeing ditched you for your cute neighbor? Bitch to the girls about how all men are jerks and only want one thing.
Your woman's not letting you catch the game tonight? Let your boys know that the old ball-and-chain is PMSing again.

It seems to me that there are many women and men out there who specifically shun the label of feminist and instead engage through male/female-bashing. I'm not saying that these categories are exclusive. But they're also definitely not the same thing.


After a long break, and much fidgeting with this whole new Google accounts setup, I'm back! Now let's see how long this lasts...