At the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC on July 25, 2012 sex workers activists loudly disrupted a special session on the United States Congress and the global AIDS epidemic. Activists rose up from the audience several minutes into the panel, as Senator Bill First praised panelists Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) for their bipartisan support of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Although PEPFAR is the world’s largest government-generated fund for HIV/AIDS, it contains a policy, known as the “anti-prostitution pledge” that requires recipients of funds to oppose prostitution.
Activists raised red umbrellas, unfurled a banner reading “Stop Criminalization, Change PEPFAR” and chanted “repeal the pledge, reform PEPFAR,” “sex workers’ rights are human rights,” and “nothing about us without us.” The activists made their way to the front of the packed room, to cheers from the audience, while Senator Frist tried to silence them. The group refused to step down, and remained seated at the front of the room for the duration of the session.
After the group sat down, Senator Frist introduced Representative Barbara Lee, who announced planned legislation, bill HR 6138, which was introduced last week but for which the text is not yet available, which will eliminate the anti-prostitution pledge. As Rep. Lee exited the stage, the activists chanted “We love Barbara Lee!”
This video includes documentation of the disruption, Barbara Lee’s announcement about the new legislation, and commentary on the action by Kelli Dorsey (Different Avenues), Daisy McCloud (Red Umbrella Project), and Sharmus Outlaw (Desiree Alliance).