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Sex and Justice Conference Shines Light on Criminalization, Regulation

By |2012-09-27T09:00:00-04:00September 27th, 2012|Michigan, News|

By Jerome Stuart Nichols

When working towards a more civilized society, sex is one of the topics that tends to get left behind most often. The University of Michigan is trying to change that with the Sex and Justice Conference.
From Oct. 4-6, activists and advocates, legal experts and academics will be coming together to discuss issues surrounding sex and law. The event will consist of several speakers, panels and plenary sessions.
Aside from the wise and edified minds, The Sex and Justice Conference will also provide plenty of amenities, which is the real indicator of a successful conference. U of M’s Rackam Building 4th floor Amphitheater offers lots of comfortable seating and there is a catered brunch on Saturday.
The Sex and Justice Conference is being funded in cooperation with several U of M departments and programs. It is free and open to the public, but registration is required at their website
Confirmed speakers include Bill Dobbs of Occupy Wall Street, Sienna Baskin of the Sex Workers project at the Urban Justice Center and Amber Hollibaugh of Queers for Economic Justice.
Although the topics of sex and justice are as vast as can be imagined, the Sex and Justice conference will focus on three core issues: criminalization of HIV, sex work, and the ongoing use of sex offender registries in the U.S.
According to Trevor Hoppe, Sex and Justice conference organizer, the event will facilitate, “thinking about how sex becomes the site of regulation and punishment, why that is and what we can do resist and change that.”
Notably missing from the list is the battle for LGBT rights, specifically gay marriage. It wasn’t an oversight, but a conscious effort to give a spotlight to incredibly important – yet lesser discussed – issues. It is also indicative of the changes the LGBT movement has gone through since The Stonewall Riots in 1969.
“The LGBT movement stopped being a place where you could talk about sex and the regulation of sex,” Hoppe said. “I think that’s fine. I’m tired of criticizing the LGBT rights movement for that fact. They have a specific set of issues, namely, these days, marriage. Sex doesn’t fit neatly in that agenda. So, I think there is a real need for sex to become its own axis of thinking and activism.”
“That is what I hope this conference makes clear to people, is that there is something specific to sex that’s not just about gays and lesbians. …There are a variety of issues that, I think, face similar kinds of issues and they all deal with how the state thinks about, regulates and controls and punishes, ultimately, sex.”
Although some – even those who are aware of the issues – might think that this conference is unnecessary, Hoppe insists that it is vital to America’s health.
“I think it’s pretty clear that you can’t have a healthy society that is unjust,” he said.
“I think it becomes clear that you can’t really achieve the kinds of goals you would be working for if you were interested in promoting sexual health without addressing the issues of justice, without thinking about justice. Justice is this framework that, I think, is a necessary sort of condition for health to really be achieved.”
Awareness seems to be the main goal of this conference. Sienna Baskin, who will be taking part in a panel on using legal tools to pursue justice on issues surrounding sex, is, like Hoppe, hoping that the conference will open people’s eyes to the reality of sex work.
“I’m hoping that people understand a little bit of the realities that face sex workers,” she said. “The conference is about more than just sex workers… but, I think, the struggles for sex workers aren’t widely understood.”
Bill Dobbs, who works with Occupy Wall Street as a part of their media team, simply hopes that people will become, “inspired to go out and organize around sexual freedom and other issues.”
“The LGBT rights movement roots are in desire and fighting for people’s rights to pleasure, sexual pleasure. Some of that has been forgotten with wedding cakes, picket fences. But what about the oldest profession in the world? What about a large number of people who get tripped up by the law because the age of consent in this country is often significantly higher than it is in, say, Europe. Nearly 750,000 people now have a scarlet letter, they’re on sex offender registries,” said Dobbs. “I think this conference looks to be a terrific gathering,” he said.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.