TODAY, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia or IDAHOT, which is celebrated in over 130 countries.
In terms of global advocacy, IDAHOT is one of the most important days that draws attention to the plight of LGBTI (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex) communities across the globe.
But while rights advocates fight tooth and nail for the LGBTI, the sex workers who form a sub-group of this community and who have played an important role in fighting for LGBTI rights, remain stigmatised throughout much of the world.
Since 2004, IDAHOT has been a celebratory day aimed at raising awareness over the discrimination and physical harm LGBTI communities face.
In some countries like Thailand, LGBTI rights are respected. However, the Southeast Asian nation isn’t exactly a bastion of gay tolerance; the community is treated largely with tolerance rather than acceptance.
In other countries such as neighbouring Burma (Myanmar), the LGBTI have enjoy little protection.
In both examples, sex workers are generally marginalised by society, including even among those in the LGBTI community.
It is common for LGBTI people to engage in sex work for a variety of reasons. In many cases, the LGBTI community overall, but particularly people identifying as transgender, are discriminated by employers.
Moreover, youth homelessness within the LGBTI community is often high. Many LGBTI people, particularly the youth, are forced to engage in survival sex because they cannot find jobs, which in simple terms is when an individual becomes a sex worker to meet economic needs.
After opting to engage in sex work, LGBTI people continue to face discrimination by the authorities.
In Thailand, for example, from the busy streets of Bangkok to the beaches of Phuket, transgender sex workers risk being arrested and fined for engaging in sex work, purportedly because it gives the country a bad image. Whereas in Burma, transgender sex workers have reportedly been raped in police compounds.
Harassment has become so commonplace, leaving sex workers vulnerable to the authorities.
The criminalisation of sex work in many countries has prevented sex workers from obtaining the support they need in the industry. In addition, it ignores the factors that lead to an individual becoming a sex worker and stigmatises those in the business.
For the LGBTI community, considering the multifaceted ways they are discriminated against in society, criminalising sex work removes an important source of income for those without other options.
Rather than ending the sex trade, the criminalisation of sex work removes the protections that a regulated industry can provide, including medical facilities, trade unions, and labour standards. Further, the criminalisation of sex work only leads to heightened discrimination and marginalisation within the LGBTI community.
Despite all this, most LGBTI activism is centered on improving the image of the community in front of a hetero-normative society.
One such example is advancing the push for marriage equality, which for many is important to be considered equal.
On the other side, because sex workers are often deemed immoral, they are often ignored. It’s been the middle and upper class within the LGBTI community who have the loudest voices, which leaves sex workers and other discriminated sub-groups behind.
By no means do all LGBTI communities marginalise sex workers, in fact there are organisations that specifically work to challenge this stigma, but overall the picture is grim.
It is through the LGBTI community as a whole accepting sex work as a legitimate form of work that will allow for the protection of its important ally.
IDAHOT should, therefore, become a day that empowers all of those within the LGBTI community, not just those whose voices are more loudly represented.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent