As part of our mission to uplift those that support the BIPOC community, particularly sex workers, we will be highlighting an organization we love and support – the Bay Area Workers Support.
This week we’re featuring BAWS (Bay Area Workers Support) and had a chance to speak to their co-founding member, Maxine Holloway.
Visit their official website at https://bayareaworkerssupport.org to learn more or make a donation.
Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your involvement with the BAWS?
My name is Maxine Holloway, and I am an Oakland based sex worker and a co-founding member of Bay Area Workers Support (BAWS), a peer-led sex worker resource organization. BAWS was started two years ago in the wake of FOSTA-SESTA and has grown into one of the leading sex worker organizations on the West Coast. We work to provide resources, information, advocacy, connection and care to our communities.
What is the significance of having a support organization for sex workers and managed by sex workers?
There are so many misguided programs and policies directed towards sex workers, and they are created by people who are not or never have been in the sex trade. They end up not meeting the actual needs of sex workers, and often further stigmatize and criminalize. It’s incredibly damaging, and yet these are the programs that continually get government support and funding. Strippers, hustlers, porn performers, escorts, pro-Doms, and street-based workers are some smartest people around, and we know what we need. Services and resources must be designed and led by people with the lived experience. Peer-based programs need to more sustainable funding, but we end up having to rely on fundraising donations to do our work, it’s challenging.
What initiatives are BAWS currently working on right now?
BAWS is putting a lot of work into our mutual aid fund for workers experiencing financial hardship during COIVID-19. We are currently supporting between 10-15 sex workers every week. We prioritize funding Black, Indigenous, people of color, single parents, transgender, disabled, and outdoor workers. We are excited to start providing larger amounts of funding and longer-term support that helps folks mobilize out their current situations. We just launched a fundraising campaign and are hoping to make this program sustainable through the rest of 2020. In August, BAWS will be hosting ‘Socially-Distant Benefits Fair’ to help workers apply for mutual aid funds, enroll in unemployment insurance, and other state programs.
How has COVID affected sex workers and their livelihoods?
Most sex workers work in close proximity with other people, so because of shelter in place and the fear of transmission, workers have had our livelihoods come to a halt. It’s can more challenging to access benefits like unemployment and stimulus payments when you have a stigmatized or criminalized job. As COVID cases continue to rise, and bills are still coming, we have to make difficult decisions about our health, safety, and income. Many folks are experiencing financial insecurity, low income, and working-class sex workers have been hit the hardest.
What are some ways fans can help support sex workers during this time? (I’ll also link here: https://bayareaworkerssupport.org/covid19)
- Donate to sex worker-run mutual aid funds
- Many workers are pivoting to or increasing their online work – sign up for their subscriptions, purchase their content, hire them for an online consultation, buy their merch, or tip them. Every financial gesture can make a big difference.
- Sex workers are getting hit from so many sides right now! While COVID is happening, the government is trying to pass dangerous legislation that will make it harder for sex workers to use the internet. Learn about the EarnIt Act (https://hackinghustling.org/earn-it-act-two-pager/) and how it harms sex workers and everyone’s privacy. Then contact your representatives and insist they do not let this legislation pass https://act.eff.org/action/stop-the-earn-it-bill-before-it-breaks-encryption.
- Learn about, and support movements like Black Lives Matter (https://blacklivesmatter.com/) and 8 to Abolition https://www.8toabolition.com/, because sex worker justice is rooted in racial justice and defunding the police.