Midtown’s sex workers safe from exile–for now

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A proposal to banish sex workers from Atlanta has stalled amid growing opposition that includes LGBT activists and gay residents of Midtown. So the city is regrouping and Peggy Denby is looking for her swagger. The Atlanta City Council's Public Safety Committee dropped the proposal on Monday, instead looking to convene a Working Group on Prostitution to gather recommendations on how to best deter prostitution. That's quite a departure from the Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution proposal, which was on a fast track to approval earlier this month. SOPA would have banished convicted sex workers and their tricks from loitering in areas known for prostitution, increased jail time for first offenders and eventually banished repeat offenders from the areas -- or the city. Denby, the Meanest Woman in Midtown, and her bully buddies at the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance cheered the ordinance. After all, they've been waging war on "thugs in drag" since last summer with offensive terms and exaggerated claims. But some LGBT activists aired their grievances with the ordinance and urged city officials, including gay City Council member Alex Wan, to find "real solutions" to prostitution. Sex workers in Midtown include gay men, cross dressers and trans people. "We are concerned for all of our LGBTQI community members, many of whom have turned to prostitution and sex work in order to meet basic needs. We oppose this ordinance because we believe it is a discriminatory and ill-conceived public policy that sets us back, endangers our health as a community, and worsens the problem it seeks to address," a coalition of LGBT groups said in a Feb. 19 letter to city officials. "We know that to succeed, people need opportunities, support and options, not jail time and banishment. Let's put our energy into finding real solutions that allow all people a way to make a livable wage and support themselves and their families. We ask that you stop this ordinance in its tracks and start over -- this time, including the stakeholders who have the experience and expertise to actually address the problems." Signees of the letter included Georgia Equality, JustUSATL, La Gender, Social Justice Guild at Frist Existentialist Congregation, Trans(forming) and Trans Individuals Living Their Truth. Longtime trans activist Cheryl Courtney-Evans and HIV advocate Craig Washington also signed the letter. Some 18 residents of Midtown also criticized the ordinance in a Feb. 22 letter and, seemingly, Denby and the MPSA for overplaying its hand. "We live and work in Midtown, one of the areas most mentioned in this conversation. The news seems obsessed with a few people's claim that there are condoms and syringes littering our sidewalks. This is simply not true. But if indeed if there is a business location or block where this is a problem, a quick look at other cities reveals that something as simple as adding garbage cans on street corners can greatly reduce these irritations. Sanitation problems can be solved with sanitation solutions. And garbage cans are certainly less expensive than paying more police offers or processing people needlessly through the courts and jail," according to the letter. "We understand that some of our neighbors are getting an outsized amount of attention in this debate. As Midtown residents and business owners, we want to make it clear that they do not speak for the entire neighborhood and, in fact, the vast majority of us would much prefer to see the Council lead with solutions to help these women leave the streets for good. Please do not allow this terrible policy to be enacted in the name of Midtown residents and businesses." Signees to the letter included Philip Rafshoon, the former Outwrite owner and now event director of the AJC Decatur Book Festival, and gay attorney Steve Scarborough. The Racial Justice Action Center applauded the Council's move in holding the measure. "We are relieved and grateful that the City of Atlanta has chosen to drop this misguided and medieval proposal and instead seek out innovative and effective solutions to address the real problems of street level sex work," Xochitl Bervera of the Racial Justice Action Center said in a press statement. "The country has been following Atlanta on this issue and now we don't have to be embarrassed about trying to arrest our way out of every problem, but can instead lead the way with compassion and common sense." A statement from Mayor Kasim Reed's office said a list of members of the new working group would be released later this week. The roster is expected to include city and court officials, police and "advocacy groups on both sides of the issue."

The scope of the Working Group will be focused on a proposal for curbing street-level prostitution. It should give the Atlanta Police Department additional tools to fight prostitution, appropriately address the demand and the supply side of the issue, and draw on the best practices in place across the country to deter prostitution while promoting solutions for those that are victimized.
But Denby, who helped lead to the demise of popular gay dance club Backstreet and fought gay promoters on other issues, never misses a chance to show that she lacks a compassionate bone in her body. During a Public Safety Committee work session on Monday, the GA Voice reports that she offered up this testimony:
The only person who spoke in favor of the ordinance at today's work session was Peggy Denby, president of the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance. She spoke in particular about her problem with "the men" prostitutes.
Now, about that proposal to neuter Cheshire Bridge Road. Photo via AJC


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