Will 2020 Hopeful Kamala Harris Address Past Hostility to Sex Workers?

Kamala Harris's 2020 presidential campaign threatened by record on trans women and sex workers.

Shocking literally no one who has been paying any attention at all, Kamala Harris has reportedly decided to run for president in 2020.

While Harris said during a Friday visit to MSNBC’s Morning Joe that she’ll make her decision “soon,” NBC News reports, sources close to the Democratic Senator from California told San Francisco’s KCBS Radio that her decision has already been made. According to those sources, Harris will announce her campaign at a rally in Oakland on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day — i.e., Jan. 21.

Harris’ campaign will probably be welcomed by a lot of LGBTQ+ people. As a senator and California’s Attorney General before that, she co-sponsored the Equality Act, declined to defend Proposition 8 in court, officiated California’s first same-sex wedding post-Obergefell, co-sponsored a bill eliminating the “gay panic” defense from California courts, and followed the Obama administration’s guidance to states on trans students, among other examples.

But Harris also used the office of the Attorney General to block two different incarcerated trans women from accessing the life-saving surgeries they’d been prescribed by their doctors. Harris is also one of the architects of litigation and policy that have pushed already marginalized sex workers even further into the margins, where their disproportionately high rates of sexual violence are only like to go up.

As California’s Attorney General, Harris led the effort to shut down the adult personal ads on Backpage, a classified advertising website that sex workers say provided an affordable, accessible, and far safer alternative to street-based sex work. Harris later said she was “proud to support” the 2018 passage of FOSTA-SESTA, because it would “make it possible for victims and state prosecutors to hold online sex traffickers accountable.” The purportedly anti-sex trafficking law prompted Craigslist to shut down its personals section, where some sex workers also chose to advertise, and precipitated the current crackdown on adult content on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

One in eight trans people have relied on sex work as their income at some point in their life, per this 2015 National Center for Trans Equality survey, and that one in eight are disproportionately trans women of color. Sex workers don’t have to be a part of our acronym for us to care about them, but the fact is that a lot of us have engaged with sex work at some point in our lives. In this light, Harris’ record of hostility towards sex workers should be considered a record of hostility towards LGBTQ+ people writ large — something she should expect to address, should she decide to run for president in the coming weeks.

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