On August 25th, the offices of Rentboy.com, a popular gay escort site, were raided by the police in New York City, with help from the Department of Homeland Security. Rentboy CEO Jeffrey Hurrant and six of his employees, were arrested; the website, which has operated since 1997, has since been shut down.
Reaction from the LGBTQ community was swift, with many decrying what they view as a "war on sex," amid calls to decriminalize a profession that supporters say helps many pay bills and survive. In the Castro, several hundred people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza on September 5th for a rally dubbed "Labor of Love," to show support for Rentboy and demand increased rights for sex workers.
A supporter at the rally.
The rally was organized by Mark Sade, a member of San Francisco's BDSM community. "I organized Labor of Love because I'm pissed off at the targeting of something that is part of the gay community," said Sade, who has a background in putting together events for organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Speakers at the rally included porn stars, pornographers, escorts, and an attorney who specializes in representing members of the sex trade.
"What do we want?" asked escort and porn model Lance Navarro as he took to the microphone. "Freedom! Freedom to do as we please with our bodies and our money!" The crowd cheered.
Navarro pointed out that until 1914, sex work was legal in San Francisco. "For some, this work is a means to an end," he said. "It's a way to pay rent, to get yourself through college. For me it's a labor of love."
Navarro shared a letter he had received from a client who came out as gay at age 73, after the death of his wife. Navarro was the man's first gay sexual encounter. "There were no words to describe it for me," the letter stated. "It was like being released from bondage, from a prison, much of my own making, but also of society. I cried several times while in [Navarro's] arms."
Others shared their specific experiences with Rentboy. "I'm a proud gay pornographer," filmmaker Pam Dore told the crowd. "I worked on a lot of events with Rentboy. It broke my heart when I heard this."
Dore, better known as Mr. Pam, mentioned Rentboy's recently launched scholarship program, which was meant to help escorts pay for school. "Who's next?" Dore asked. "We all have to stand for each other."
Gil Sperling, an attorney who often represents people who work in the sex industry, argued that morality cannot be used as a basis for discrimination. "You can't tell someone they can't do something because you don't like it," he said.
Cole Valley resident Bruce Beaudette and his dog, Yoko O-Yes.
Spectators cheered throughout the rally as other speakers talked at the podium and Navarro walked through the crowd offering attendees bottles of water. Many thanked him not only for the cool drinks, but for his efforts on their behalf.
After the rally, some of the protesters stood across the street at Jane Warner Plaza and held up their signage to passing traffic.
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