RJ Thompson advocates for Sex Worker’s rights, decriminalization

Photo courtesy of Sex Workers Project

On April 7, the final event of the Radical Queer Legal Studies Speaker Series took place over Zoom, hosted by the Lewis & Clark Law School. The event featured RJ Thompson, the managing director of the Sex Workers Project. The conversation was facilitated by LC law student Mer Mathis ’23.

Matt Constantino was the organizer of the first ever Radical Queer Legal Studies Speaker Series. Their aim was to create a space for marginalized identities in a law. The first Radical Queer Legal Studies Speaker Series consisted of three online events, the first event featured Professor Katie L. Acosta, the second event featured Hailey Ockinga, and finally the third event featured Thompson.

The Radical Queer Legal Studies Speaker Series embraces Angela Davis’ maxim that “radical” means grasping things at the root through platforming activists, scholars and legal practitioners who focus on the intersections of queerness, race, disability, homelessness and poverty to aim towards liberation from the carceral state. The series defines queerness beyond any LGBTQ+ classification in favor of a fundamentally intersectional practice.

Thompson opened the final event with a discussion and introduction. He has worked in seven different social justice movements throughout his career. Currently, he works with the Sex Worker Project, which has had a base in New York City, but throughout the last four years has worked to supportgrassrootsleadsexworkersintheSex Worker Project. He explained that everyday types of decriminalization efforts should be part of every type of movement.

“We are one of the largest national sex worker rights organizations in the U.S.,” Thompson said.

The Sex Worker Project offers legal advocacy to survivors of human trafficking and people who engage in sex work, regardless of whether they do so by choice, circumstance or coercion.

The national organization defends the human rights of sex workers by destigmatizing and decriminalizing people in the sex trades through free legal services at local, state and federal level, education, research and policy advocacy. The Sex Worker Project aims to create a sexually liberated world where all workers have autonomy and full human rights.

With a background in law, Thompson has worked to pass sex work decriminalization bills in the past two years. One of his aims is to advance work around sex worker rights, by providing direct legal services to sex workers in the United States, as well as providing support to migrants who have worked in the sexindustry.

“We as activists should know that it is only us that creates the reality,” Thompson said.

Thompson views his work as a way of embracing one’s authentic self in various ways. As a lawyer, a sex worker and queer person, Thompson encouraged everyone to challenge binary notions of what a person can be. He remembers that he was one of the first out sex workers to lead this type of organization. Rather than being stigmatized, Thompson believes that sex work should be lifted up and treated as beneficial thing.

He said that most of his clients at the Sex Workers Project are migrants, many of which are also trans. As an institution, they care deeply about migrants and believe decriminalization helps people in every circumstance. According to Thompson, all workers deserve protections regarding labor wage theft and sexual harassment, as well as knowledge of their rights. Additionally, he mentioned not all of these sex workers are coerced into this work.

Thompson said that all of us have fundamental and inalienable rights and it is our duty as citizens to hold the government responsible for our human rights. For more information about the Sex Worker Project visit swp. urbanjustice.org or contact Thompson at rthompson@urbanjustice.org.

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