The federal government’s recent attack on Rentboy.com is a devastating assault on some of the most vulnerable members of our community — young adults who, for the first time in their lives, were able to earn a secure living safely through Rentboy after surviving family rejection and homelessness because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As the cochair of #BornPerfect, the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ campaign to end the dangerous practice of conversion therapy, I have both seen and lived through the harms experienced by LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families and left with no means to obtain an education or employment. Many of these youth are still struggling to survive as young adults. For some, working as a paid escort through Rentboy has been a lifeline out of homelessness, despair, and the dangers of living on the street.
Rentboy.com may or may not have broken the law. I don’t know. But I do know, from the frantic emails filling my inbox, that the raid on its headquarters has thrown many gay, bisexual, and transgender young adults into turmoil as their main source of income has been ripped away due to irresponsible and archaic views of sex work.
Organizations like Amnesty International and the World Health Organization support the decriminalization of sex work. And recently five major LGBT organizations, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Transgender Law Center, and Lambda Legal, have all come out in support of Amnesty International’s August 11 resolution supporting sex worker human rights.
Why do they care? The same reason I do. Because sex work disproportionately affects the LGBT community. Transgender people engage in sex work at a rate 10 times that of cisgender (nontrans) women. And many LGBT youth engage in sex work just to survive. A 2013 Center for American Progress report suggests that LGBT youth are more than three times as likely to have engaged in survival sex.
I am not a person using sex work to survive. I am, however, overwhelmed with messages from GBT young men who are afraid of having to return to their families, where they face mistreatment, and even worse, because the main and most secure connection they had to income through escorting is now gone.
They are reaching out to me because of my passion for ending conversion therapy, a set of the dangerous and discredited practices linked to severe depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. The connection is horrifying: Many of the young men were forced into conversion therapy by their families — the families to which they may now have to return without a steady income. This makes it my issue.
One of the young men who messaged me said, “I was never harming anyone with the work that I was doing. As cheesy as it sounds, most of the people just wanted a human connection with someone who they could relate to on some basic human level.” Another young man added, “It feels like we had a chance to act with dignity and authenticity for the first time and it was taken away from us.”
They are right. The rent boys weren’t harming anyone. But now these young men might have to return to communities and homes which have rejected who they are. And that’s when the real danger begins.