It is time that the society at large recognised sex work as legitimate work: 'his body, his choice.'
The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and its member organisations have noted with concern the continued debate on male sex workers and the challenges they face on a daily basis. We make this statement at a time of widespread media reporting on male sex work, including through the widely publicised special feature on Kenya Television Network (KTN) dubbed ‘Muffled Killer.’ We would like to ensure that the conversation surrounding sex work, and more so, male sex work, remains well-informed, based on fact rather than sensationalistic reports.
It an undeniable fact that men are as much a part of the sex industry as women and members of the gay community are not an exception. However, not all men who have sex with men are gay. Men having sex with men (MSM) are male persons who engage in sexual activity with other men, regardless of how they identify themselves. These are men who choose not to accept the label “gay” or “bisexual.” Gay is a sexual orientation that describes people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex.
Men in sex work and the sex workers’ rights movement have faced a harsh backlash, homophobia and invisibility in addition to the traditional ignorance of and hostility toward the profession. There is a dire need to address human rights violations such as murder, rape, torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment. These violations are committed by both law enforcement agents and clients and must be stopped. Decriminalization of sex work is a major step in ensuring that sex workers are able to keep themselves healthy and safe. It is time that the society at large recognized sex work as legitimate work: “his body, his choice.”
The claim made by KTN that in every two male sex workers one is infected with HIV has not been verified as truth. Although sex workers are severely affected by HIV/AIDS in Kenya, they are also one of the groups most likely to respond well to HIV prevention campaigns and so no effort should be spared to reach out to them. Prevention campaigns aimed at male and female sex workers not only reduce the number of HIV infections that result from paid sex; they can also play a vital role in restricting the overall spread of HIV in a country. It has been proven in some countries that general reductions in the national HIV prevalence have been largely attributed to HIV prevention initiatives aimed at sex workers (male and otherwise) and their clients.
Decriminalisation of sex work will reduce the stigma surrounding workers in the industry, which will enable them to better seek medical support. It will also ensure that sex workers are better able to establish and enforce rules like mandatory condom use with their clients, which will in turn help the already infected ones stop the spread of HIV. Currently, sex workers risk facing violence at the hands of their clients when they attempt to enforce safer sex.
It is important to note that though not all men who have sex with men for money are gay, however, a large population of male sex workers do identify as such. We must embrace the diversity from within our community instead of lashing at others because of choices they have made in life.
As sexual and gender minorities, the LGBTI community stands in solidarity with sex workers and we frequently work alongside each other in activism. We are all fighting for the ability to make our own decisions about how we use our bodies, and to live our lives in dignity, safety and health.
GALCK and its member organisations and many others.
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