West End Sex Workers Memorial

September 28, 2016

by CJ Rowe


Red is the colour of solidarity within sex worker circles, so it’s not surprising that the West End Sex Worker Memorial’s light is red. A beautiful circular orb adorns to top of the Victorian inspired light-post, which is only slightly visible at mid-day on a Friday morning in September.

On Friday, September 16th I was invited as the Executive Director of QMUNITY to say a few words at the unveiling of the West End Sex Workers Memorial. On this day, Jamie Lee Hamilton, Dr. Becki Ross, and the West End Sex Workers Memorial Committee unveiled a beautiful monument in commemoration of the sex workers who were displaced from the West End in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This displacement fractured a vibrant, supportive, and loving community that took care of each other and who were subsequently placed in precarious to dangerous circumstances. There is a deep history here that I’m only going to scratch the surface of, at best, in this post.

Picture this: a growing group of people has begun to gather outside of Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Jervis at Pendrell. There is a lovely crowd gathering to celebrate the significance of the marker, to remember all those who once worked, walked, and lived on these streets and acknowledge this tragic piece of our city’s history.

I wanted to take this opportunity share with you the message that I crafted in partnership with my wife and sex worker activist, Amber Dawn, for this event:

I would like to start by expressing my deep gratitude to Jamie Lee Hamilton and Dr. Becki Ross for inviting me to say a few words today. As someone who strives to work in allyship with sex workers and towards sex worker justice, it is a privilege to be standing in this room with you all today.

No community should be systemically fractured. To dismantle a community in this way—to separate people from their networks, built-in supports, and friends—is to make them isolated and vulnerable. Not only does this severance interrupt loving and beneficial relationships, it also disrupts knowledge that is vital both on a cultural level and a safety level.

In this city, we have seen this pattern throughout our history time and time again. Communities and people that are systemically broken apart and forced to separate, which has led to some of the most shameful moments we as Vancouverites have known.

QMUNITY was created out of a desperate need for safer spaces for LGBTQ2S individuals and our communities. The organization was founded in 1979 and has remained the essential resource in the community and continues to strive to provide safer spaces for queer, trans and Two-Spirit individuals and their allies for over 35 years.

It deeply concerns me that experiential sex workers have very limited space to gather, to build community and supports with one and other. Sex workers have few spaces that have been explicitly developed by and for them. PACE Society is one of the few organizations that has been providing supports and services to, by and for sex workers since 1994 however many other organizations and groups have come and gone over the years. There are ongoing barriers that prevent the creation and sustaining of sex workers’ spaces.

Let this memorial be a marker for us to not only remember the history of these streets, of the lives and spaces that were lost but as a marker that propels us to continue to work for future change. QMUNITY pledges its solidarity to work in coalition with sex workers and towards sex worker justice.

QMUNITY is still in the Village. May our West End be your West End. Don’t hesitate to reach out.



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