I’ve been doing some reading
I’ve been doing some reading, as usual… and came across this essay:
“What’s a nice girl like you?” was the usual reaction of men to my becoming a feminist as well as my becoming a prostitute. The difference for me was I chose to be a feminist, but I decided to work as a prostitute after being labeled officially by a misogynist judge in San Francisco at age twenty-five. It was 1962. I said in court, “Your honor, I never turned a trick in my life!” he responded, “Anyone who knows the language is obviously a professional.” My crime was I knew too much to be nice girl.
I cornered him (a local liberal sheriff) at a party once and asked him what it would take to get NOW, and Gay rights groups to support prostitutes’ rights, because he seemed to have most of the support of the liberal groups in town. He said that we needed someone from the victim class to speak out, and that was the only way the issue would be heard.
I decided to be that someone, even though I had only worked for four years, and wondered what effect speaking out would have on my life. I received support from my family, my mother, the housewife-secretary, my sister, the gospel singer with eleven children, my sailor brother, my son, the salmon fisherman, their families. Together with friends across the country and around San Francisco, they convinced me that speaking out was the right thing to do. My father stopped talking to me.
In 1973 I decided to reconnect with the lawyers and bail bondsmen I had known and I hoped the hookers would join me The PR people responsible for getting the sheriff elected volunteered to help me… They still remembered me. I had gained some notoriety at the time of my trial and I successfully appealed the conviction, but it didn’t help me find other gainful employment. A professor at UC gave me some good leads and resources. Another old friend got a job as a jail doctor, so I had inside information from him and from the girls. Prostitutes were still being quarantined at the time which meant you had to be examined for VD before you could get out of jail. We stopped the practice the following year.
A liberal mayor was elected, George Moscone, and he hired an out-of-town Police Chief who the cops didn’t like because they had so far managed to keep minorities and women off the force. We all know what happened to the Mayor, and a Gay Supervisor (Harvey Milk -fw), murder by a former cop. The climate changed after the murders, and the liberals became afraid to speak up about the issue.
I started organizing internationally with a close friend, Jennifer James, an anthropology professor in Seattle in 1973. She coined the word decriminalization and was responsible for getting NOW to make it a plank in their 1973 convention. COYOTE published a newsletter from 1974-79 and the Hooker’s Ball became popular, attracting 20,000 people in 1978.
- Margot St. James, founder of the Prostitutes Rights Movement in the U.S.