At its Dec. 16 meeting, the West Hollywood City Council decided against co-sponsoring a Sex Worker Task Force and instead offered to provide space for meetings and an undetermined amount of funding. The item was removed from the consent calendar and tabled pending adjustments.
Councilman John Duran brought a proposal developed by the Sex Workers Outreach Project-Los Angeles before council after a public town hall meeting on sex workers co-sponsored by the organization.
“This is cutting edge work. It is pioneering work. It hasn’t happened anywhere else in the country. It would be the first of its kind,” Duran said. “The city of West Hollywood has never shied away from taking on controversial issues whether they be cannabis, needle exchange, domestic partnership, marriage.”
If approved, City Manager Paul Arevalo would be tasked with appointing members of the task force, including experts in the field of sex work, people with lived experience and representatives from the city’s Transgender Advisory Board, Public Safety Commission and Human Services Commission.
Over six months, the proposed task force would discuss issues faced by different types of sex workers, violence prevention, fighting discrimination and stigma, and improving sex workers’ access to healthcare, housing and social and legal services. The goal of the task force would be to develop a report summarizing the discussions and proposing recommendations to the city.
Other members of the council expressed individual concerns with the proposal for different reasons.
Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey Horvath was concerned that the task force would overlap with other appointed bodies, such as the Transgender Advisory Board, that already address many issues mentioned during public comment.
“I’m not sure that we need to form a task force to address the very real and present issues that were mentioned here tonight,” Horvath said.
Although he did not support the city co-sponsoring the task force, Mayor John D’Amico said the city would show its investment in the effort by providing facilities for meetings and funding.
Additionally, Councilman John Heilman said he was worried that by tasking the city manager with appointing members to the task force, a barrier would be created and sex workers wouldn’t participate out of fear of criminal enforcement.
“There’s a lot of validity to Heilman’s concern because [sex workers] are definitely a difficult to reach population, but SWOP-LA can breach that,” said West Seegmiller, a former sex worker and co-director of SWOP-LA who spoke in favor of the proposal. “We’re going to continue working closely with Councilman Duran to utilize the city’s resources.”
Other attendees including current and former sex workers spoke in support of the task force. Jordan Palmer, a UCLA law student, asked the council to support the proposal on behalf of organizations including the National Lawyers Guild, Survivors and Allies Support Network, Labor and Economic Justice Clinic, an exotic dancers union and more.
“Sex workers are telling you what they need in order to lead safe lives, and we urge you to listen to them and to take their advice,” Palmer said.
For now, the discussion has been tabled and SWOP-LA will return with a new proposal after finding other co-sponsors within its current partnerships.
“This is the kind of work and the kind of task that we are called upon to do, to set the tone and example for other municipalities to follow,” Duran said. “If not us, who?”
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