As the executive director of St. James Infirmary, Toni Newman works to provide judgment-free services for sex workers who are LGBTQ, people of color, homeless and those living within the intersection of those communities.
“Even though I am a trans woman of color, I fight for folk of all genders so I’m here not just fighting for trans equality; I’m fighting for all LGBTQIA equality and intersecting that with our allies,” said Newman, whose clinic operates on a peer-based harm-reduction model and provides medical, behavioral, social and clinical services.
While serving a broad community, St. James is a special place particularly for trans people who face high levels of unemployment and housing insecurity.
“It’s great to be able to provide housing to trans folk and then to be able to hire trans folk to be navigators to help other trans folk who are homeless or marginalized,” she said. “I’m so proud of that since I’ve been here two years as executive director.”
Newman knows that one way to help the transgender community is by decriminalizing sex work. That’s why one of her goals is to decriminalize sex work in California.
“The work is important because a high percentage of trans women of color work in the sex industry because of discrimination, harassment, lack of education and lack of housing,” Newman said. “To be able to decrim sex work would really affect transgender people from going to jail and being charged with misdemeanors … Most of the trans folk who are doing sex work are what we call ‘survival sex workers,’ meaning they’re just doing it to survive.”
Earlier this year, HRC praised the enactment of SB 233 in California, which will protect people engaging in consensual sex work from being arrested when reporting violent crimes.
With the Trump-Pence administration’s attacks on the transgender community, Newman hopes allies step up and show solidarity with the transgender community.
“I welcome [allies] to join us [to] push this agenda of equity of transgender people, especially trans women of color,” she said.