The History of International Whores Day
As a whore myself, I believe it’s important to remember the history behind why we are celebrating International Whores Day. To commemorate the women before us, who fought for their rights to work as prostitutes. In addition to the women who are still fighting today, to be treated like normal human beings.
San Francisco 1973 – the group COYOTE is formed by Margo St. James with the aim of educating the public about voluntary prostitution, to achieve decriminalization and end stigma against prostitution. St James believed sex work was real work like any other job within the USA and that it should be relieved of its criminal status. COYOTE encouraged prostitutes to take pride in their work. Attended en masse were the events, Hooker’s Film Festival, Hooker’s Congresses and the Hookers Balls.
Did you know that COYOTE stands for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics? Most likely in direct defiance to the popular beliefs that prostitutes were ‘morally defunct, drug-addicted vectors of disease’.
In San Fran, prostitutes required mandatory Gonorrhoea tests, and while awaiting results they would be held in jails for quarantine. COYOTE was successful in eliminating this law arguing that clients never received the same treatment.
Alas, it was not Margo St. James, but another movement that sparked the date for International Whores Day.
The Women of Saint Nizier
Hotels were closing in Lyon, France 1975, therefore prostitutes worked the streets. Police constantly jailed them for doing so. Maria de Lourdes an 18-year-old prostitute at the time states that “the police would let the dogs loose on us”. Jailed, fined and released back onto the streets only to be subsequently jailed again was a regular occurrence. The risk of their children being taken away from them was very real.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and with the support of priest Father Louis Blanc, more than 100 prostitutes took refuge in the Church of St Nizier. The protests aim showing society that they were normal women, not criminals, but simply mothers who have chosen the profession to provide for their families. They sought recognition that sex work was real work and that there was a demand for their services; and why should legislation be written without their input? The words “Our children don’t want their mothers in jail” hung on a banner. Chants were sung. The protest which lasted 8 days, ended with police raiding the church on the basis that it was creating public disorder.
The occupation of St Nizier by up to 150 sex workers gathered worldwide attention. Police reduced harassment and the women avoided jail. However it would be decades until the real change for the prostitutes of Lyon surfaced. But the strike was the beginning for many movements to come.
Nul ne peut plus nous faire taire
De toute maniéres,
Nous voulions arracher
Le droit d’être ce que nous sommes,
Femmes, et non pas bêtes de somme
A Saint Nizier
“Nobody can shut us down
We wanted to fight back
For the right to be who we are
Women, and not beasts of burden
At Saint Nizier”
Today there is no memorial, no sign in the church of St Nizier that even hints at the stake out that happened there – however these brave women represent International Whores Day.
To find out more about how International Whores Day began; Check out the following links:
- An in-depth thesis; Discourse and the Power of Symbols: Representation and Regulation of Prostitution in France 183 1-1975. By Jennifer L. Sweatman
- Article by The Conversation detailing the history of how the movement by the French sex workers led to a world wide labour movement.
- A blog article by Elizabeth Nolan Brown. Has a great selection of extra readings about International Whores Day and provides a brief summary of events.