Politicians Press the Flesh at a Kinky Party Supporting Asian Sex Workers

Nudity, leather, kink, heavy makeup. It was a celebration of desire and sexuality, of BDSM and marginalized voices. On stage, burlesque dancer Viva Lamore took off the last layer of her Japanese maid dress and proudly showed off her body in leather dessous, earning rounds of cheers and applause from the audience. Meanwhile, rhythmic sounds of whipping from the corner turned several heads in the crowd—a petite Asian girl in a red shiny leather dress continuously lashed a grey-haired white man’s back.

This extravaganza was a fundraising event named Red Canary Screams at Lot 45 in Bushwick. It was meant to celebrate “enthusiastic consent” and to “uplift marginalized identities and communities,” as listed on the community agreements, a set of six rules that every participant agreed to and repeated after the organizer, Empress Wu, at the beginning of the event. The beneficiary of the event, Red Canary Song, is a grassroots organization that advocates for the decriminalization of sex work and opposes law enforcement against Asian and migrant sex workers. Red Canary Song was founded a year after the death of Yang Song, a sex worker in Flushing, Queens, who killed herself during a police raid at the massage parlor where she was employed.

Prior to Song’s death, she experienced unrelenting police harassment and was arrested several times on charges of prostitution. There are, in fact, many Yang Songs in the Asian immigrant community. Since sex work is illegal in New York, police raids of massage parlors are common in Chinese immigrant neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. According to the organizers at Red Canary Song, many Asian sex workers are in the sex business because of economic pressure and a lack of professional skills.

A 2017 report by the Urban Institute and the Legal Aid Society finds that arrests of Asian-identified people in New York exploded from 12 to 336, a rise of 2,700 percent between 2012 and 2016. The study found that noncitizen Asian migrant women make up 87 percent of all arrests for unlicensed massage.

Daphne Chang, organizer and director of outreach at Red Canary Song, said that undocumented sex workers are especially vulnerable to police brutality, because they lack English language skills and fear the possibility of deportation when seeking legal protection. The organization’s mission is to connect with Asian sex workers in the community and provide legal services and consultations. “This event is historical,” said Chang, “because it is the first event exclusively dedicated to Asian sex workers.”

Ron Kim, a New York state assembly member who has been supporting Red Canary Song since it was first founded, showed up to the event for solidarity. “Our economy, our consumer-driven capitalistic principles are neglecting these workers,” he said. “We are demonizing them, devaluing them, dehumanizing them…A year ago, after Yang Song, I couldn’t look the other way anymore.”

Other outspoken politicians passionate about decriminalizing sex work in New York also attended the event, including New York state senator Julia Salazar, assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, and candidate for Queens County’s District Attorney, Tiffany Cabán.

“I know multiple sex workers who were beaten up, raped, tried to go to the police, and they were told, ‘Who would believe you? You committed a crime,’” said Yuh-Line Niou on stage. “We need labor laws and labor rights and we need a model that decriminalizes, not harms, our community… Sex work is work.”

The spirit of the crowd climbed with Niou’s remarks. “I love that there are politicians that are representing a community that we are raising money for. I also think that it is really powerful that they are out here,” said KD Diamond, one of the organizers of Kink Out, an event-planning group working with Red Canary Song. “I know they’ve been getting a lot of flak representing at this event. But I think this is the way it should be. We are constituents, we should be represented.”

According to Yin Quan, organizer of the Saturday event, conservative constituents questioned Niou and Kim’s attendance after reading an article New York Daily News published the day before. Both Niou and Kim reacted to the piece on Twitter before and after the event. Niou called the fundraiser “the ultimate progressive litmus test for political leaders to see if they truly value all members of our community and can truly lead with empathy.”

Part of the fundraising came from ticket sales. Diamond estimated over 400 advance tickets were sold. The six-hour event also had a bar, shoeshiners, an embroidery station, a silent auction, and food trucks. Two hours into the show, a 2-hour tattoo session with Kat Noir had gone from a starting bid of $10 to $125.

Mitch Adair, a self-identified leather man and close friend with Yin Q, an organizer of Red Canary Song, said, “This event is wonderful. I’ve been living in New York since the early ’90s… I’ve never seen a group really becomes politicized. They are actually fighting to decriminalize sex work.”

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Read more:

Better than Backpage/Craigslist

How to beat any prostitution sting (10 easy steps to spot-stay ahead of LE)

How to De Criminalize Prostitution for Dummies

Sex Work Is Work—And Its Laborers Are Officially Unionizing

Sex Work Should be Legal — If Only to Protect Women from Police

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