By Robbie Swan
Queen’s Birthday Awards aren’t handed out lightly. Generally they go to academics, do-gooders, big business types, socialites and those who have done good things for the polite society. The idea of someone from the sex industry getting one of these awards would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. However that’s exactly what happened last June when not only did someone from the sex industry win an award in Australia but also in New Zealand. Julie Bates, a former sex worker, long time campaigner for sex workers and law reform in the industry was made an Officer of The Order of Australia and in New Zealand, Catherine Healy, a former sex worker, was made a ‘Dame’ for much the same reasons.
Fairfax media reported that Ms Bates was in all likelihood the first Australian with a background in sex work to get an AO. She laughed and told the reporter, “Well, the only one who has acknowledged their sex work. Who knows?”
It is a stunning turn around by the Queen’s selection committees who would normally put former sex workers in the same category as criminals because effectively they had been campaigning to legalise an illegal industry. So what does this say about sex work in 2018 and are we likely to see Mal Day, Ken Hill and John Lark awarded in the future for services to the porn industry? Many argue that porn also saved lives during the HIV/AIDS crisis period by producing material that people could get off on at home on their own rather than going out and seeking risky sex on the streets.
While this is probably in the realms of science fiction (more like ‘science-friction’) there is no doubt that there is a softening of attitudes to those in the sex industry by the general public and this has allowed the selection committees of the awards to be a bit courageous when selecting those who are worthy. The election of Eros’ former CEO, Fiona Patten, to the Victorian Parliament in 2014 and her success in prosecuting her libertarian agenda, has no doubt helped to soften attitudes to sex workers. She was the first former sex worker to be elected to an Australian parliament and quite possibly to any parliament in the world. Sex worker groups like SWOP and Scarlett Alliance have also been doing great PR work for many years and although most sex workers still fiercely guard their privacy because of the stigma that unfortunately attaches to the job, many are coming out to close friends and family more than they once did and this is also having an effect in moderating society’s attitudes.
Ms Healy told New Zealand media that her new title showed how much attitudes had changed.
“This honour, and to have it given to me, is about saying, ‘Okay, it’s okay, you can come in from the cold, you and yours’,” she told the national broadcaster.
And if attitudes to those working in the sex industry have changed in Australia and New Zealand they have also started to change in the US where the owner of half a dozen Nevada brothels has won preselection for the Republican party for a state assembly seat. Dennis Hof will contest the state election in November. Although not the first brothel owner to be preselected, nonetheless this has to be seen as an indication of a softening of attitudes on the other side of the world.
Hof celebrated his win at a victory party in Pahrump, complete with champagne for the 100 people who attended, including former madam and reality TV personality Heidi Fleiss, who wore a T-shirt that read “Vote Hof.” At the end of the evening, he held up a large campaign sign, “Dennis Hof: The Trump of Pahrump.” While possibly not the most sensitive slogan to pull on in the wake of the US President’s affair with porn star Stormy Daniels and especially after his famous secretly recorded urgings about how to grope women’s genitals, no doubt the ‘Hof’ will get some sage advice on campaigning from industry friends. He’ll need it!