Dozens of sex workers and supporters gathered in Cairns on Friday to march for decriminalisation of sex work in Queensland.
The rally was to mark International Sex Workers Day, also known by sex workers as International Whores Day, which falls each year on June 2.
“Common sex worker safety strategies are criminalised in Queensland,” said chairperson Kayla Rose.
She said that safety practices such as operating in the same building as another sex worker, or sending a message about their whereabouts for work, were against Queensland law, forcing workers to choose between operating safely or legally.
“We had a lot of very good feedback from the general community,” Respect Inc treasurer Jenny King told Star Observer after the rally.
“When people realised we were trying to engage about our need for industrial rights and workplace health and safety, that was very well received. They could make a connection with their own workplace rights.”
State coordinator Elena Jeffreys said decriminalisation of sex work is recognised as international best practice model for the sex industry.
“It’s recommended by agencies including the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and most importantly sex worker organisations all over the world,” she said.
Jeffreys said research has shown decriminalisation would lower the HIV rate among sex workers around the world by up to 47 per cent.
“That alone is a testament to the success of allowing sex workers civil liberties like everyone else,” she said.
“The campaign here in Queensland is to remove the laws that are specific to criminalising sex workers.”
Respect Inc peer worker Renon Schafer said that International Sex Workers Day is a time to address the reforms needed to protect sex workers.
“International Whores Day is an annual celebration of how far we’ve come in the fight for sex worker labour rights, as well as recognition of how far we have yet to go,” they said.
“Currently in Queensland we have a legalised regulatory model, which means that although there are legal ways to work, if we operate out of these very strict confines, we are instantly criminalised, putting sex workers at risk of institutional violence.”
Respect Inc is calling on Queenslanders to write to their local MPs and ask them to support decriminalisation of sex work.
Other sex worker groups held their own rallies for International Sex Workers Day.
In Sydney, Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) held a protest on Saturday evening to highlight the workers who have been forced to return to street-based sex work in the wake of anti–sex work laws passing in the US, leading to the loss of online advertising platforms.
Workers at rallies around Australia and the world carried red umbrellas, the symbol of the sex worker rights movement.