April 16, 2020 at 4:32 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
U.N. agency says sex workers hit hard by coronavirus pandemic
HIPS, gay news, sex workers, Washington Blade
Cyndee Clay, executive director of HIPS, said the group is starting an emergency fund to help sex workers survive.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing sex workers throughout the world, including in the U.S. and the D.C. area, to experience hardship, a total loss of income and increased discrimination and harassment, according to the United Nations agency UNAIDS and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.

“As sex workers and their clients self-isolate, sex workers are left unprotected, increasingly vulnerable and unable to provide for themselves and their families,” the two international groups said in an April 8 joint statement.

“Sex worker-led organizations from all regions are reporting a lack of access to national social protection schemes and exclusion from emergency social protection measures being put in place for other workers, particularly where sex work is criminalized,” the statement says.

“Wherever and whenever possible, sex workers are responsibly self-isolating in response to governments’ calls,” it says. “However, when they are excluded from COVID-19 social protection responses, sex workers are faced with putting their safety, their health and their lives at increased risk just to survive.”

Cyndee Clay, executive director of the D.C. sex worker advocacy group HIPS, said HIPS and the local groups No Justice No Pride and DecrimNow have collaborated to create an emergency fund to help sex workers survive financially at a time when their income has nearly disappeared and they are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits available to other workers.

Information about how to contribute to the fund is available on the HIPS website hips.org, and on a newly created GoFundMe site https://www.gofundme.com/f/d6j5ue.

Clay said many HIPS clients are LGBT people who are homeless and do sex work as a means of survival.

Like other nonprofit organizations and businesses in the D.C. area, Clay said HIPS has had to temporarily close its offices at 906 H St., N.E. due to the coronavirus social distancing requirements. She said the group is operating nearly all of its programs remotely through phone and online services. She said HIPS continues to arrange in-person visits for clients at a table setup on the sidewalk outside the HIPS offices on H Street.

“We’ve modified our services schedule but everything that we’ve considered kind of essential is still happening,” Clay said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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