Sex Workers Excluded in Federal Funding for Monkeypox Response

Yet again, the federal government has excluded sex workers in their response to the Monkeypox outbreak. Just today, the Honourable Hedy Fry announced the recipients of the $550,000 in funding, and $0 of it went to sex workers.

Now, I absolutely have nothing bad to say about the groups who received the funding, the Community-Based Research Centre, H.I.M Health Initiative for Men Society, and the Queer and Trans Health Collective. What I want to know is why sex workers meet the criteria of being a high-risk group due to our multiple daily “close contacts” with clients, but are not a distinct “Priority Group” for either the vaccine or the funding.

Over the past several years, the health sector has been systematically erasing sex workers as population segments in Canada.  It’s been going on silently behind closed doors, and nobody is doing anything to stop it. 

Yet, like the LGTBQIA2+ community, we are a high-risk group.  Our “close contact” profession puts us at risk. To deny us our own distinctive identity as a high-risk group is to deny us access to health care, which is a prejudicial and discriminatory act against an already marginalized group.  It’s a violation of our human rights.

When the Monkeypox vaccine first became available, sex workers were not considered to be a Priority Group, despite the fact that one of the main risks associated with transmission is sexual activity with multiple partners. 

Now, some sex workers are men who have sex with men, or are members of the LGTBQIA2+ community, but many of us are femme cis hetero women who would ordinarily be the health sector’s last priority for protection against this type of outbreak.  We don’t get access unless we are made visible. Sex workers are our own distinct population of people that needs to be seen and served!

In the hierarchy of socially acceptable prejudice, it’s clear that in Canada, the LGTBQIA2+ community has a higher standing than the sex worker community. The fact that they get priority access to health care while we struggle with systemic erasure makes it clear.  I do not want to drag my LGTBQIA2+ allies down to our level, but what is it going to take for sex workers to have the same level of acceptance in our communities, and for government organizations to serve us all equitably?

What is it about sex workers that makes it okay to discriminate against us? Everybody has sex.  Everyday people transact in the sex industry all the time – when they watch porn (or read erotica), purchase a sex toy, or go to a show lounge. The sex industry is everywhere, almost everyone participates in it, and yet sex workers continue to be stigmatized and marginalized.

It’s so funny(sad) that the wording for the $550,000 in Monkeypox funding is for “prevention, education, awareness, and anti-stigma activities,” yet one of the most stigmatized high-risk communities is excluded from the initiative. 

It’s time for change.