New alliance of Philly orgs focuses on sex work safety

New alliance of Philly orgs focuses on sex work safety

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Naiymah Sanchez of GALAEI: A Queer Latin@ Social Justice Organization struck up a conversation Thursday with representatives from the Illinois Department of Health. She was in Chicago for Creating Change, the annual LGBT conference hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Sanchez asked them about their referral process. She wanted to make sure that if someone with HIV had interacted with Illinois Health’s case-management system, and was moving to Philadelphia, they would be connected to competent care in their new home.

“A lot of providers choose what they think is healthy living, instead of having that provider empower you to make choices that will be beneficial to you in the long run,” said Sanchez, coordinator of the Trans-Health Information Project at GALAEI.

She added, for LGBT people, getting referred to facilities that have trained their health providers in queer care is especially important.

Sanchez was also at Creating Change to represent the Strength Alliance. Formed by five Philadelphia organizations through a July grant from the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, the alliance works with LGBT individuals who engage in sex work.

“Even though it’s been looked at in a wrong way for a long time, it is a work force,” Sanchez said. “This is some people’s jobs. We don’t want to shame those who engage in sex work, but to promote it in a healthy way.”

The alliance includes GALAEI, Philadelphia Black Pride, the Youth-Health Empowerment Project (Y-HEP), Resources for Human Development and its FPCN nurse-managed health-care network. The Behavioral Health grant runs through the end of June 2017, said Brandon McLaren of Resources for Human Development, which led the grant-writing process and assembled the organizations.

He said the alliance’s main focus is to identify individuals who engage in sex work and connect them with the best resources for their needs, including dental services; pre-exposure prophylaxis, called PrEP, a daily pill regimen shown to be effective at preventing HIV; and drop-in hours at Y-HEP. They also refer people to services outside their network, like the Mazzoni Center for legal name-change assistance.

Le Thomas, president of Philadelphia Black Pride, said some people think safe sex work is only an issue for transgender people, but the need is broader.

“Some trans people have survival sex,” Thomas said. “But you also have young girls and boys who are gay and have survival sex to have somewhere to lay their head. Homelessness becomes an issue for why people have sex. You’re not being paid for the service, but you have somewhere to lie your head and you’re exchanging that for sex. That’s sex work.”

McLaren said the Strength Alliance works well because of the perspectives each organization brings to the table.

“There’s power in numbers to build off other organizations’ strengths to really make an impact on an under-served community,” he said.

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