The Fight To Advertise Health Care For Sex Workers


Ads for a clinic that caters to sex workers are currently running on buses in San Francisco. Though the whole point of the campaign is to show that sex workers are people and they deserve access to health care, the ads were rejected twice for being too raunchy for public consumption.

The St. James Infirmary is a clinic run for and by sex workers and their families, which will be advertising on 50 busses in San Francisco through November 11. The Bay Citizen reports:

The ads feature cheery photographs of local sex workers (from the shoulders up), their family members and health care providers, images that include a woman in a fur coat, a man with a dog and a couple touching heads. The tagline “Someone you know is a sex worker” accompanies the images.

(Yes, even in an article about discrimination against sex workers, it was necessary to note that the ads don’t feature their dirty, dirty bodies.)

The ads wound up on the busses after being rejected for use on billboards by the advertising firms CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor. A Clear Channel rep explains their ads must meet the “standards of the local community” and apparently that doesn’t involve keeping all citizens healthy. Barbara Haux of CBS Outdoor adds that “Sex workers” is “not a family friendly term.” They offered to reconsider the ads if the St. James Infirmary removed the phrase, though we’re guessing they wouldn’t go for “prostitute,” “hooker,” or any of the more derogatory names for the people cared for at the clinic.

The clinic could have gone with a viral campaign after the ads were rejected, but the campaign is meant to legitimize the work the clinic does, in addition to advertising its services. The opposition to the ads might be more understandable if they were advocating for decriminalizing prostitution, a proposal which was voted down in San Francisco several years ago. However, all the ads say is that the people who perform these jobs aren’t anonymous, and they deserve to be safe and healthy. Naomi Akers, who is both the clinic’s executive director and a former sex worker, says, “This is about humanizing us … We’re not just the stereotype of sexual deviant. We’re everyday people.”

Rejected Ads For Sex Workers Find Venue [Bay Citizen via NYT]

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