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Sex work has long been stigmatized and then criminalized in the United States. The past two decades have seen the growth of the decriminalization movement, as well as continued crackdowns on this labor, from legislation like FOSTA-SESTA, to content censorship on Instagram. 

Our panel will discuss the historical relationship between race, class, queerness and the illegality of sex work as well as contemporary approaches to its decriminalization. What kinds of policies do we need in order to protect sex workers? What are the arguments against decriminalization? How do we dismantle social stigma around sex work in our everyday lives? 

The conversation will be livestreamed on this page and on the BPL YouTube channel. There will be a Q&A via YouTube chat. 

The panel will include:

State Senator Julia Salazar 

Senator Julia Salazar represents New York’s 18th State Senate District, including the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, as well as parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville and East New York. Upon her election in 2018, she became the youngest woman elected in the history of the New York State Senate. Senator Salazar is a strong supporter of tenant rights, criminal justice reform, equal protection for women and immigration justice.  In 2019, Senator Salazar introduced the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act mandating insurance companies’ cover all FDA approved contraceptive drugs, devices and products for women.  Responding to concerns raised by constituents about services provided to victims of domestic violence in the health care system, Senator Salazar introduced bills mandating training for hospital staff regarding domestic violence and guaranteeing victims free and safe transportation home from the hospital.  She Co-chaired the 2019 NYS Joint Legislative Hearings on Sexual Harassment that led to the enactment of much needed changes to the NYS Human Rights Law. Senator Salazar is committed to ending the harm caused by mass incarceration.  In pursuit of this goal, Senator Salazar strongly supported the reforms of pretrial discovery and bail enacted in 2019 and has introduced legislation to decriminalize sex work and to provide judges with greater sentencing discretion as well as cosponsoring the historic NYS Dream Act and the “Green Light” bill, granting access to NYS drivers’ licenses regardless of immigration status. Until her election to the State Senate, Julia Salazar worked as a community organizer in the neighborhoods she represents and across New York City. She began her advocacy during her time as a college student at Columbia University, where she advocated for the rights of fellow tenants and service industry workers.

Stephanie Kaylor 

Stephanie Kaylor (they/she) is a Ph.D. student in Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is completing research on sex work and labor coalition. Stephanie holds an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the University at Albany, and has completed graduate coursework in Library and Information Science at Simmons College. In early 2021, she began the Sex Workers’ Archival Project, a platform through which primary sources related to sex work and workers, specifically mid- to late-twentieth century US policy and criminality, are shared for public use. Her advocacy related to sex workers’ rights has spanned across many years and states, including the facilitation of professional trainings, panel discussions, and lobbying events, as well as the compilation of data and fact sheets for organizations against sexual violence. Committed to the recognition of historical legacies, and both artists and activists whose influences live on today, Stephanie’s work in archives has included an internship at Anthology Film Archives and the processing of the Ricky Sherover-Marcuse papers for the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections at Brandeis University; in 2016-2017, she served on the Steering Committee of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Society of American Archivists. Stephanie is also Reviews Editor at Glass: A Journal of Poetry. A poet whose work has appeared in numerous anthologies and publications including Hobart, Protean Magazine, and Flypaper Lit, much of her writing relates to topics including sex work and the politics of narrativity; and “unidentified women” in US news articles and the politics of naming.


AKYNOS, also known as M.F. AKYNOS (MFA), a multi-dimensional performer-stripper. Influenced by African dance, the Black diaspora, pop music and the wild womxn spirit of Sex Workers, Akynos’ work is about upending the patriarchy and setting her own terms on what it means to be a womxn in a Black body. She recently completed an interdisciplinary Masters of Fine Art (MFA) at Goddard College focused on the representation and re-evaluation of Sex Workers in society using short films such as Whore Logic (2013) and Hor (2018); additionally, her writing has been published in places such as: Rosa Lux, Rutgers University Press, Ravishingly and her own blog Black Heaux. With live performances across the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Caribbean and South America, she has run the gamut in the adult entertainment industry. An immigrant from Jamaica, raised in the concrete jungle, she has been featured in The New York Times (2018) alongside burlesque rockstar Aurora BoobRealis. Her time as a nude model centerfold and cover girl in the 90s hood classic, Black Tail Magazine, would prepare her path of becoming the art coordinator for the Desiree Alliance Conference (2014-2016), leading the arts track where she convened the largest street protest of the conference’s existence in New Orleans, LA 2016. She then took those experiences to spearhead her own philanthropic arts organization and in 2018 created “The Black Sex Worker Collective” as a response to the oppressive legislation against sex workers in the United States.

Her cooking exhibition,”The Cookout: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” (Berlin 2020) will expand her work in this area during her 2021 residency at Zaratan AIR in Lisbon, Portugal.

Melissa Gira Grant

Melissa Gira Grant is a staff writer covering justice at The New Republic. She is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso). She was a senior staff writer at The Appeal, as well as a contributing writer at the Village Voice and Pacific Standard. Her feature reporting has been published by BuzzFeed News and the Guardian, and her commentary and criticism has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bookforum and The New York Review of Books. Her essays are collected in Best Sex Writing, The Feminist Utopia Project, and Where Freedom Starts: Sex Power Violence #MeToo. She lives in New York.

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