Q & A: Sex Worker Open University

Free Pride caught up with Luca Stevenson from Sex Worker Open University ahead of their workshop at our daytime event on 20th August.


What are the main aims of the Sex Worker Open University?

SWOU is a collective of sex workers and allies who are fighting against the criminalisation and stigmatisation of sex work.

What can we expect from the workshop at Free Pride?

The workshop will include a presentation about the needs and demands of sex workers, including LGBTQ sex workers. We hope to repeat the success of last years’ event but include much more info about recent developments for sex workers in Scotland, UK and globally. This will also be a safe(ish!) space for anyone to ask any questions they want. Sex work can be an emotive issue – it is emotive for us anyway – and we hope to create a space where anyone’s questions can be answered. The workshop will be led by current and former sex workers, and whilst we invite any questions, we will also be very clear that our experiences and our demands are not up for debate! People attending will also learn more on how to show active solidarity with the sex workers’ rights movement and the organisations fighting for our rights in Scotland. The workshop might include naked magic tricks but we are still working on them so no promises!

Which organisations, resources or campaigns would you recommend to people interested in learning more about sex worker activism?

There is tons of stuff online. First of all, follow SWOU and other sex workers’ rights orgs on social media. Check our website for some resources like zines on queer/survivor issues. Check SCOT-PEP website for different resources on legal models in Scotland and then both ICRSE (the European Network of Sex Work Projects) and NSWP (the Global Network) who both have loads of resources!



What do you think are the most important intersections between the fights for LGBTQIA+ liberation and sex worker rights?

The main connection is that many LGBTQ people are sex workers. As simple as that, the LGBT movement should include sex workers and fight for decriminalisation of sex work, because our fight is your fight. I have seen many times the LGBT movement silencing or ignoring sex workers. This is typical of “respectability” politics. “Let’s not talk about prostitution whilst we demand marriage equality”. But what if we reversed that? What if we made the needs of the most marginalised the center of our movement? Many people are selling sex because of poverty or lack of other options. In particular, in many countries, trans women who have very limited options of employment due to transphobia, turn to sex work as one of the only modes of survival. Of the 1,731 documented murders of trans and gender-variant people in the world between 2008-2014, 65 % (of those whose profession was known) were sex workers.

LGBT rights and sex workers rights also intersect in many other ways. In many countries, anti-sex work laws are used against LGBT people and vice versa. You can read more about this here.

Are you hopeful about the progress made in the discourse around decriminalisation in Scotland following the Prostitute Law Reform Bill consultation by Jean Urquhart?

Yes, we are! I don’t think sex work will be decriminalised in the next few months but we are making massive progress. Last year Amnesty International came out in support of decriminalisation and more and more progressive people realise that the pseudo-feminist alternative of criminalising clients is not only ineffective but dangerous. Decriminalisation, for me anyway, is a first step. Whilst we advocate for decriminalisation, we also need to call for better welfare or even look at Universal Basic Income, and fight against transphobia and demand better drug laws, so that people don’t have to turn to sex work out of poverty, lack of options or because of an addiction. But today, we need to support sex workers, whatever their reasons to sell sex. And this means supporting decriminalisation so that sex workers can be protected by the law like any other citizens, and report violence and abuse without fear of being arrested or deported.


Interview by Ellen MacAskill