Event: Sex Work and Migration

A conversation about sex work and migration, the association of migrant sex work with human trafficking, the racialized tropes inherent in that association, and the increased likelihood of migrant sex work in the face of climate crisis. This panel features Elene Lam (Butterfly), Cecilia Gentili, Aneiry Zapata (BLMP), Karina Bravo (PLAPERTS), and will be moderated by TD Tso.

Co-sponsored by Cornell Law School chapters of APALSA, SALSA, LALSA, Outlaw, Women of Color Coalition, Women’s Law Coalition, NLG, and IRAP

Aneiry Zapata was born in a small Black-Garífuna community called “Sambo Creek” in Honduras. She is a transgender Black woman, a primary education teacher, a feminist, and a LGBTQIA+ rights and human rights activist. She arrived in the U.S. in 2015, fleeing the systematic oppressions of her country, which affected the Black community to a greater extent. This prompted her to develop actions and resources for the LGBTQIA+ migrant community in the United States. Aneiry began her activism with protests, conferences, social platforms and in the courts, testifying in cases of human rights violations of LGBTQIA+ and Afro-descendant populations. This connected her with BLMP (Black LGBT+ Migrant Project), and QDEP (Queer Detainee Empowerment Project) where she has been working since 2018 as Leader of the Garífuna Sector.

Cecilia Gentili is a human rights activist and the founder of Transgender Equity Consulting. Cecilia is from Argentina, and came to the US seeking asylum as a transgender woman and was undocumented for 10 years. Her experiences surviving arrests, immigrant detention, and constantly being targeted by policing as an undocumented migrant sex worker has driven her to ensure that all people living on the margins are provided with access to dignity and respect in all spaces. Cecilia has done transformative work with Apicha Community Health Center, GMHC, the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, and DecrimNY, a coalition working towards the decriminalization, decarceration and destigmatization of people in the sex trade, which she cofounded. 

Elene Lam is the cofounder and executive director of Butterfly – Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network. She has advocated for sex workers, migrant labor, and gender justice for more than 20 years. Elene co-founded Butterfly in 2014 after moving from Hong Kong to Canada, where she saw a need for activism around the specific needs and concerns of migrant sex workers. Butterfly started as a support network for Asian and migrant sex workers in Canada to address the challenges they face working against anti-sex work legislation that criminalises the purchase of sex, advertising sexual services, and communicating in public.

Karina Bravo Neira is an Ecuadorian organizer, the leader of LAS MUJERES TRABAJADORAS DEL SEXO DE MACHALA (women sex workers of Manchala), and Coordinator of La Plataforma de Personas que ejercen trabajo Sexual (PLAPERTS). She has worked in the Prevention and Eradication of Trafficking since 1998, and is part of the Gender Violence Eradication Table. She started her work after being invited to be part of La “Sala”, a safe space for women where she was trained in HIV/AIDS prevention. She founded the first organization of women sex workers in the province of El Oro – “Colectivo Flor de Azalea” where she began to fight for rights to move freely on the street, denouncing police violence, and managing to end raids and arbitrary detentions. She’s dedicated to serving survivors of sexual exploitation, trafficking, and sexual violence, within organizations like Fundación Quimera, Casa Linda, Dueña de Mi, and Rosa Vivar Arias.